Content Wildfire: Prevention Lessons from Smokey the Bear

4 minute read

Upland Admin

content wildfire prevention lessons from smokey the bear

Growing up, my dad worked as a research director for the US Forest Service. That meant my brother, sister, and I got to tag along on research projects in National Forests from Colorado and Wyoming to Georgia and Michigan’s UP.

It also meant that our dad knew Smokey the Bear (not personally, but they ran in the same camp circles).

While Smokey’s image has changed over the past six decades, Smokey has stayed true to a single message: Only YOU can prevent wildfires.

What does this have to do with content marketing?

Smokey knows that fire can be a positive force, providing light and warmth. However, when fire is not well-managed it can become a wildfire burning millions of acres of forest, destroying homes, and taking lives.

Similarly, when content is not well-managed, it can quickly get out of control and become a problem for your organization.

Below are three lessons on preventing a content wildfire at your organization, inspired by Smokey the Bear’s most noble efforts.

Focus on the People Problem.

9 out of 10 wildfires are human-caused. This is pretty sobering data, and it even accounts for lightning strike fires. Also sobering is the fact that SiriusDecisions reported that more than 70% of all content in B2B enterprises goes unused by humans (your team or organization). 

Smokey acknowledges that there are many factors involved like forest management policy, climate change, and residential development in wildland/urban areas, but he never ducks the lowest common denominator attributable to 90% of the problem: humans.

There are many things that may be contributing to your organizational content challenges like industry regulations or the competitive landscape. But internal policies, processes, silos, etc. are people problems, and they cause the greatest harm to a content operation.

Share Personal Responsibility.

Only YOU can prevent forest fires. The power of this responsibility statement is rooted in the inescapable truth of wildfire data, but it is the pronoun “YOU” that really packs a punch.

“You” might seem like a simple pronoun, but as a content marketer you should know the source of its power. It is the only personal pronoun in the English language to be both singular and plural and is in the second person “sweet spot” of conversational intimacy.

Your ability to create an organizational “you” will make or break your efforts to strategically create and manage content. Editorial boards, content councils, content dashboards, editorial calendars, and content idea farms are all great ways to create a sense of shared personal responsibility. When the collective “you” feels that shared responsibility and are empowered to positively impact and influence content, you are on track for content success.

Have a Consistent Message.

Smokey understands the concept of the content “sweet spot,” illustrated in the Blueprint of a Modern Marketing Campaign eBook. The overlap between audience interest and organizational expertise is where Smokey has found success over the past 60 years, helping to decrease the average number of wildfires since 1990 by 15%, or about 12,000 fires.


Smokey has stayed focused with his messaging despite all the contributing factors to wildfires like climate change, forest management, increased human habitation in the wildland/urban interface, and a dramatic increase in large and very large wildfires.

Clarity of message isn’t just important for your audience, it’s important for your organization. Your organization’s ability to create consistently compelling content will be directly related to how clearly everyone understands the themes that make-up your content sweet spot.

When you put all three of these lessons together, your internal teams will be inspired to act by engagement data, empowered with personal responsibility, and clear on the message your organization is communicating.

There you have it. Three critical content marketing concepts brought to life by Smokey the Bear. Hopefully now he has earned a place on your list of content marketing heroes. You can follow him on Twitter @Smokey_Bear.

Stay tuned for the next post, Content Wildfire Part 2: Proactive, Healthy Forest/Content Management. Because, sometimes, you need a chainsaw.

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