PSAs find new relevance in advertising market slump

WASHINGTON: The downturn in television advertising has created new

opportunities to get public service announcements (PSAs) on the air,

concluded a panel at the National Press Club last week.



But panelists cautioned that messages must be in tune with shifting

national concerns.



Panelist Ira Teinowitz, Washington, DC bureau chief of Advertising Age,

described a drastic decrease in ad spending. Though this is typically

good news for PSA hopefuls, Teinowitz said that news updates on the war

against terrorism set the tone for both commercial and PSA messages.



"Any time you have a major news story or other event that garners

extensive coverage, it has an impact on what is said in both

advertisements and in PSAs," said Teinowitz, who forecasted a similar

tricky situation in 2002.



He said the Winter Olympics and the November mid-term Congressional

elections would likely fill ad slots, which could edge out all but the

best PSAs.



But after these blockbuster events, predicting the availability of ad

space would be impossible to anticipate, he added.



Stephanie Greenberg, SVP of the Ad Council, explained how the

organization selects PSA projects, and said that the Council plans to

stay focused on terrorism-related issues, but also return to standard

themes.



Bill McCarren, panel moderator and president of US Newswire, explained

the back-to-business approach in PSAs: "For three months, nothing was

happening in the news or any of our minds but these problems of

terrorism and anti-terrorism. Now you're starting to see some news

coverage of other issues; you're starting to see people traveling,

planning their lives, and doing things they were afraid to do a few

months ago. But the idea of the messages being in tune with society is

something that's always true."



Panelists examined a Planned Parenthood PSA produced before September

11, but aired after as an example of eerie timeliness. The PSA's focus

on global reproductive rights and women's health rights used images of

women in burquas and other traditional Muslim dress.



"This resonated in the current climate in a way that couldn't have been

anticipated," explained McCarren. "It resonated visually as a way of

saying we may be in conflict with people in Muslim nations, but we have

a common cause. I don't know if anyone could have figured out beforehand

that that image would have that value."



The workshop was presented by the US Newswire division of Medialink, and

was attended by nearly 200 communications professionals.



TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL PSAs



STICK TO THE ISSUES



A PSA's mission should be to educate and increase awareness of an issue

important to a broad audience. PSAs should not be designed to promote a

particular organization



BE TIME-SENSITIVE



Most PSA directors take about three weeks to get new PSAs into

rotation.



If your PSA is tied to a specific date, event, or sweeps period, you

need to approach stations a minimum of three to six weeks in advance



BE AWARE OF LENGTH



Since they fill open advertising spots, PSAs come in three formats: 15

seconds, 30 seconds, and 60 seconds. PSA directors' preferences vary,

but on average, most directors prefer 30-second PSAs



CUSTOMIZE DISTRIBUTION



Different stations prefer different formats, from hard-copy VHS or Beta

to satellite feeds. Hard copies can make it easier for a station to

accept your PSA, but satellite feeds can greatly reduce costs



LOOK WHO'S TALKING



Choosing a celebrity spokesperson with a strong connection to one

network (e.g., Martin Sheen or Ray Romano) will help when pitching that

network's affiliates, but may minimize opportunities at the other

network affiliates



Source: US Newswire Workshop.



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