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
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
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
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
Most PSA directors take about three weeks to get new PSAs into
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
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
Source: US Newswire Workshop.