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EMS Classics is a feature column I write for Canadian Paramedicine.

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Column 46 April/May 2014

Ambulance Marketing 101 Lessons From Our Past

Today, most EMS/paramedicine organizations can rely on stable government funding to meet their operating expenses, but in a previous era, many ambulance services had to rely on their own resources in order to receive calls and generate revenue. Volunteer, hospital and municipally run services were less reliant on revenue generation however, private ambulance services - most of whom did not receive any financial subsidies - needed to "make the phone ring" or else they wouldn't be in the business of providing ambulance service for long.

Various methods of generating calls were employed. The easiest and most effective method was to ensure the name and phone number of the respective ambulance service was included in the free listing of emergency telephone numbers on the inside front cover of the local telephone directory. In some locales, competing ambulance companies would resort to tactics in order to increase the quantity of calls they would receive; they would install several phone lines to their ambulance office, each with a different name and number. Often they would use names such as A-1, A&A, or AAA for these extra phone lines because ambulance services were listed alphabetically in the telephone directory and it was thought a caller in a panic would dial the number at the top of the list.

Maintaining good relations with personnel in the dispatch offices at the city police, RCMP and fire department was another important marketing strategy, otherwise these dispatchers might call a competitor when an ambulance was needed at an emergency scene. Ambulance operators would also lobby management at their local telephone exchange to ensure their respective service would receive a fair share of operator calls. You see, in an emergency callers would often just dial 0, tell the operator about the emergency and then leave it up to her to notify one of the ambulance services.

Other ambulance marketing methods included advertising in the Yellow Pages, painting the ambulance service name in large letters on each ambulance so as to make them traveling billboards, and distributing to each household in the community a sticker with the respective ambulance service name and phone number on it to adhere to the family telephone. In Calgary, ambulance attendants at one service gave each patient and/or relative a card "You have been safely transported by Associated Ambulance and we wish you a speedy recovery" in the event the patient would need an ambulance ride home.

Ambulance services also distributed pens, key chains, paperweights, calendars, matchbooks and cigarette lighters, each emblazoned with the ambulance service name and telephone number. In 1974 when K & B Ambulance started up in competition to our Crescent Ambulance Service in Saskatoon, they stole a lot of what would have been our calls with a very effective (and for us very frustrating) giveaway program: they delivered boxes of chocolate turtles to each nurse's station in Saskatoon hospitals and nursing homes!

Aren't you glad your EMS/paramedicine organization doesn't need to resort to revenue generation tactics such as these?