AFAC poster content

Six Weeks and Four Years: The Six Week Challenge in Review

“A practical example of  email and social media marketing for community engagement”

(introduction is some of our marketing, bigger and coloured font please)

What is the Six Week Get Ready Challenge?
You’ll receive six emails over six weeks in the lead up to bushfire season, with a differnt topic every week to help you prepare.

But is it too challenging for me?
Not really! It’s very much a private challenge. We won’t ask you to open your home to show off your preparations, or raise any money, or run 50km like some other challenges do, but if you want to do any of those we’re happy to help, just ask!


Through our marketing efforts in the local newspaper and social media, we asked people to sign-up to a mailing list prior to the beginning of the Challange. And so begins particpation in the Six Week Get Ready Challenge.

Survey results tell us that the 6 Week Get Ready Challenge met our communities needs and improved their preaparedness.

If you would like to view the 2018 Challenge go to and follow the links. At the time of the AFAC19 conference the 2019 Challenge will be already underway. You can catch up and sign up on our website.


The Challenge began in 2015 as an experiment in using modern email marketing and social media techniques for community engagement and education. Our hunch was that we could reach more and different people than we do with face-to-face engagement at community events.

By framing the emails as a community event – a ‘challenge’ – we thought that recipients would be further motivated to participate because it was something bigger than themselves. Indeed our survey results showed that participants appreciated the community nature of the event. They told us that they discussed topics they were learning about with neighbours, friends and family and encouraged them to participate.

One of our aims was to provide the community with an alternative to face-to-face engagement, from the comfort of their own homes. The participation statistics speak for themselves showing a growth in particpation for the Challenge year-on-year from 2015 to 2018.

Face-to-face contact can never be replaced for its effectiveness so another aim of the Challenge was to encourage it by using the emails to promote a range of community events. Participation in the Challenge grew from 100 in 2015 to 300 in 2018. These numbers eclipse our face-to-face engagement efforts, but the Challenge only compliments those efforts. Indeed we’ve had many face-to-face engagements with Challenge participants both at regular community events such as markets, and at spin-off events that we have hosted to expand on and answer questions on topics raised in the RFS Fire Plan and the Challenge itself.

There is a long standing marketing model known as the 4 Ps: Product, Price, Promotion and Place. If applied properly it is a framework for taking a product or service to market successfully. We applied this model to our design: with an appropriately designed product (the Challenge emails and their lessons), with the right Price (in our case the ‘cost’ of not participating coupled with the ease of particpation), the right type of Promotion to reach the audience we were looking for (a combination of email, social media and website), and the right Place (the comfort of your inbox).




We designed the Challenge to complement NSW RFS Bushfire Survival Plan by presenting topics, referring participatns to the Plan online, and setting a specific task to complete their one Plan.

As a gereral rule our content aims to empower particpants with the information they need to to work towards making balanced and informed decisions. All topics and messages require consideration of their unique situation, while knowing their responsibilities and ours.

Information in the Challenge emails is broken down into 6 topic areas so that participants can focus on one each week. We designed a range of fun “tasks” to make the experience enjoyable, without detracting from the lessons to be learned.

The writing follows established rules for email marketing such as using simple headlines that spark the imagination, and encouraging the reader to commit to reading more in-depth information on the topic.

In addition to the emails, key topics and content were cross-posted to social media, both as a way to increase sign-ups and as an alternative method of engagement with the topics.

Topics covered in the 2018 challenge:

Week 1 – “Location, Location, Location”
Topics: Understanding and assessing local hazards, risks and safe passage for evacuation

Week 2 – “Should I stay, or should I go?”
Topics: Planning for and what to do in the event of a fire. Interpreting news reports. Discussing plans and ideas with the household. When should you leave, and when is it too late to leave?

Week 3 – “Your Emergency Box and more”
Topics: Don’t forget the undies! Creating an Emergency Box and Grab Bag. Prepare the pets.

Week 4 – “Yard Blitz!”
Topics: Yard preparation for falling embers. ‘5 Things To Do In Your Yard’ and ‘Garden Hacks’.

Week 5 – “Home Evaluation & Preparation”
Topics: Checklist and links to online toold for assessing the preparedness of your property. Insurance issues. Rental tennancy responsibilities.

Week 6 – “What’s your Plan B?”
Topics: Planning for your household siutation and differnt days of the week.

Katoomba-Leura Rual Fire Brigade is a 100% volunteer brigade of the NSW Rural Fire Service. By utilising the skills and experience from our members’ “day jobs” we designed the first Challenge with the intent to engage with our local townships of Katoomba and Leura. When we put out the call for participants through social media and traditional local media we asked people to provide their postcode. We soon discovered that the message had gained wider interest with particpants from across the Blue Mountains, and further afield, so we adjusted our approach.


Context is important and the Blue Mountains has some unique qualitites that support the use of email and social media marketing. We have a large number of absentee holiday home owners and a larger than average population of over 55s. Known as a city in a World Heritage National Park, the Blue Mountains expresses all of the beauty and terror that nature can throw at humanity. The Blue Mountains has both potential and history to show its vulnerability to major bushfires. Most residents and visitors accept there is risk but do not fully understand what that risk looks like or what actions they should take if leaving early is not possible.


As volunteers and with no budget the reach of our email campaign was always going to be limited. Our small team committed a lot of time to editing content and running marketing and the email campaigns themselves. Despite this we were pleased with the end-user particpation, especially when compared to the time and effort required to run face-to-face engagement activities at community events. Hour-for-hour of volunteer time spent, the Challenge has achieved great success in it’s stated aims.

How to provide the most relevant content, including local content, to a regional mailing list? Perhaps by accident or maybe design, our marketing reached a geographically wide audience. This forced us to revisit out content plan which was priginally more focussed on the Katoomba-Leura situation. However in 2018 we began testing the use of dynamic content based on postcode, to customise the email on a per-user basis.

Our team’s key lesson over the last four seasons of the program has been around streamlining content, development and better use of our resources.

Modern technology and how people use it to communicate, has played a significant role in shaping how the Challenge was designed, and it’s success in reaching people.
The technology we use to run the email campaign is an online service named MailChimp. Well known in the marketing world, MailChimp offers us great capability to design, run and manage campaigns and our mailing list free of charge.
In 2018 we changed the format to move the bulk of email content to our website in the form of articles. Survey respondents told us they appreciated this improvement.
One opportunity we tested in 2018 is the ability to include postcode-specific content according to the postcode the user provides when they sign up. This presents an opportunity for a district approach with extremely localised advice provided from other brigades.

Industry interest our Six Week Get Ready Challenge has gained us popularity through social media and we have presented the Challange at local and national conferences like AFAC19. Interest has developed into some brigades, districts and local councils running their own email campaign Challenges with differing but similar models to ours. Technology, skills and resources are obvious diving factors that determine how to run a Challenge and we are happy to learn about your situation and share our expereince and knowledge so that you might integrate email and social media into your community engagement activities.

Average Email Open Rate 51.6%
Cross-sector benchmark open rate 20.8%


*survey graphs*

“This is a marvellous initiative. If all six emails are as good as this one I can see Katoomba Leura RFB getting an award for community preparedness.” Hugh via Facebook



View the archive of 6 Week Get Ready Challenge emails at: