PR TECHNIQUES PSAs: How to create a top-notch PSA - Who would turn down free publicity? PSAs are a great way to snag a broadcast spot or print coverage - without shelling out any dough. Phil Rabin tells you the best ways to create a successful PSA

Some of the most memorable messages presented by government, non-profit and even profit organizations include Smokey Bear, ’Iron Eyes’ Cody, McGruff the Crime Dog, crash-test dummies Vince and Larry, the United Negro Fund’s ’A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste,’ and ’Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk,’ are just a few of the more compelling public service announcements.

Some of the most memorable messages presented by government, non-profit and even profit organizations include Smokey Bear, ’Iron Eyes’ Cody, McGruff the Crime Dog, crash-test dummies Vince and Larry, the United Negro Fund’s ’A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste,’ and ’Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk,’ are just a few of the more compelling public service announcements.

Some of the most memorable messages presented by government,

non-profit and even profit organizations include Smokey Bear, ’Iron

Eyes’ Cody, McGruff the Crime Dog, crash-test dummies Vince and Larry,

the United Negro Fund’s ’A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste,’ and

’Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk,’ are just a few of the more

compelling public service announcements.



And these ’free’ messages are big business. In 1998, the Advertising

Council received an estimated dollars 1.2 billion in donated time and

space for its public service announcements. Radio and TV accounted for

about dollars 1 billion, with newspapers and magazines adding

approximately dollars 50 million.



The remainder included public service messages appearing on outdoor

billboards, bus signs, and on the Internet.



’There is no law which says a station must devote a fixed amount of time

to community organizations,’ notes Jeff Wurtz of News Broadcast Network

in Ridgefield, CT.



Broadcasters air PSAs because they fill the time they could not sell and

in the process, ’pad’ a show to its desired length. Likewise, newspapers

and magazines use PSAs as space fillers.



The first step in a successful PSA campaign is to have a specific goal

in mind when you create a campaign. For example, do you want to inform

the public - or a segment of the public - about a subject, do you want

to change behavior, do you want to generate calls to a hotline or simply

raise money?



’Perhaps the single most important - and most often neglected task that

should be completed is pre-campaign research,’ says Bill Goodwill of

Goodwill Communications, in Burke, VA. To be successful, he argues,

organizations must learn all they can about the problem being addressed

in the PSA and the audiences being targeted for the message.



Given the volume of material received by public service directors, PSAs

compete for limited broadcast time or print space. According to a survey

by West Glen Communications, PSA directors tend to favor causes

important to society at large and relevant to local audiences.

Children’s issues (41%), local communities (36%), health (20%) and

safety (20%) were the most popular topics with stations.



Beyond the message itself, a number of other considerations must be

addressed.



The material must be as professional as the print or broadcast ads that

may ’bracket’ your message. Also, make sure your message is timely and

sent in a user-friendly manner - radio and television stations use a

number of different length PSAs (30-second spots are most popular

according to the West Glen survey), and sending material in the wrong

technical format can be a waste of money. If a PSA is non-dated, 98% of

studios prefer a hard copy to satellite, says West Glen’s report. Note

also there is more airtime in the first quarter.



One traditional approach is to get a celebrity to present an

organization’s message. But Tim Bahr with Orbis Broadcast Group in

Chicago notes that a celebrity is particularly effective if he or she

has ’mass appeal’ and ideally, a personal connection to the topic. Greg

Jones, VP of Medialink, warns that ’celebrity spokespersons are good,

but if they are affiliated with one network’s series, it may be more

difficult for the other networks to air it.’



While PSAs are normally associated with non-profits, there is still a

place for profit organizations. Pharmaceutical companies with a new drug

for a particular disease or condition may team with a non-profit that

represents people suffering from that illness. ’The PSA usually tells

viewers if they have that illness that they don’t have to suffer and

that there are new treatments available,’ explains West Glen’s Annette

Minkalis.



She also recommends that the non-profit organization endorse the PSA and

the media cover letter is written on the non-profit’s letterhead.



Measuring the success of a television PSA is done through various

services, although it adds to the cost. One approach, called SIGMA, adds

electronic data to television PSAs that can be retrieved by special

receivers across the country. SIGMA data provides information on when

and where the spot aired. Massaging the data can tell organizations how

many months the spot aired and if part of a campaign, which spot was

most used.



PSAs can gain major exposure. A Porter Novelli campaign for the National

Institute of Mental Health generated more than 10,000 airplays for a

message on anxiety disorders. News Broadcast Network reported that a

Salvation Army campaign reached more than 43 million Americans. And 98%

of children between the ages of six and 12 recognize McGruff the Crime

Dog.



DOS AND DON’TS



DO



1 Your research so your PSA achieves an identified goal for your

organization.



2 Keep it simple. The short length of PSAs means you must minimize the

points you want to make.



3 Send broadcast PSAs in different lengths and print PSAs in different

sizes.



4 Establish an effective tracking system.



5 Try to localize your PSA, and a local number is often more effective

than a national toll-free one.



DON’T



1 Forget that television PSAs must be sent in the format used by the

stations on your mailing list.



2 Distribute your PSAs at the wrong time of the year. If you have a

message such as swimming safety, make sure it can be aired in

summer.



3 Spend too little on your PSA. Remember that it may appear between

high-priced ads for nationally known companies.



4 Use a personality associated with oneTV network if your goal is to get

coverage on all TV networks.



5 Have unrealistic expectations. PSAs are broadcast or printed to fill

unsold time and space.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in