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MoneyFacing budget shortfalls and the possibility of closing some of its fire companies, the city of Baltimore is considering selling advertising on fire trucks, among other things. Firemen are said to be all for it, the mayor not so much.

According to the Baltimore Sun, three fire companies are on the chopping block. Although nobody knows yet how much a truck-advertising program might raise – results of a study are pending – it is hoped that it might be enough to keep them open and further enrich the city’s first responder budget.

According to the Sun report, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is opposed, believing that a fire truck is an improper venue for commercial messages.

Rawlings-Blake is thinking instead of selling ads on public buildings, such as parking garages.
RBR-TVBR observation: If you think about it, this boils down to a tax on media companies.

Unless you assume there is an infinite pool of advertising cash just sitting there in Baltimore for the taking, the marketing budget that winds up being spent on fire trucks would be coming directly out of the potential earnings of television stations, radio stations or perhaps the Baltimore Sun. It means local Baltimore media would be subsidizing the city’s fire department.

It’s no different than if it was decreed that all canned soup sales in the city be credited to the fire department budget. Or that every time somebody buys a necktie, the fire department benefits financially.

There is an aspect of unfairness to competing with a fire station for ad sales. What local business wouldn’t love to be able to say that its local fire station saved five kids’ lives, but only after the local business saved the fire station? The important benefits offered by good local broadcasters are not so neatly explained.

The fire department exists to promote the safety and well-being of the public, and the public should accept the responsibility of making sure it is adequately funded.

If this program does go through, however, broadcasters may get some benefit out of it – at some point down the road perhaps the most successful fire truck ad sellers can perhaps be lured into performing the same task for a friendly local broadcasting company. Fire companies may become a competitor, but if that happens, they can also become a training venue.


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