Amid changes in the medium, there are certain ways to ensure success for a radio PSA.
Radio continues to be a great outlet for PSAs, despite consolidation among terrestrial stations and the proliferation of new technology. Developing relationships and catering to station needs are still the best ways to ensure wide distribution.
Priscilla Natkins, EVP and director of client services at the Advertising Council, says radio accounts for half of the $2 billion of donated media each year. She adds that radio stations are plentiful, averaging 30 stations per market compared with seven TV stations per market.
"We haven't been negatively impacted by consolidation," Natkins says. "Clear Channel makes a... commitment to distribute through all [its] stations. [Which campaigns local stations] support is up to them."
Richard Strauss, president of Strauss Radio Strategies, agrees that consolidation has made relationships paramount. "[It] has put one PSA director in charge of multiple stations," he notes. "Cultivate that relationship. If that one person says no, you could be shut out of half the stations in that market."
Natkins suggests a "more is more" approach. "Because PSA directors are inundated, they want more options," she notes. "We ask for two or three scripts. Shorter copy lengths are popular, [but] do 60-second [spots] and 30-second [spots]. The more options you give in terms of length and issues, the more they have to choose from."
ZComm CEO Ris‘ Birnbaum also advocates "being as flexible as you can" and advises including 15-second scripted versions of PSAs for announcers to read. It's also important to give stations a PSA in the format it prefers - either on CD or MP3.
"Make the stations happy," Birnbaum adds. "If they want their call letters, we'll customize every tag. If a celebrity, author, doctor, or athlete is voicing the PSA, [see if they'll] do a promo for the station. The station likes it, and it's great for the client."
Natkins notes that satellite radio, which is "very targeted because stations are so narrow," broadens reach, while satellite stations tend to "align [Ad Council] spots very well." She explains that both radio and non-radio outlets are online, which helps distribution.
Strauss says satellite channels can be "tough" because many are programmed only for music. However, he adds that satellite stations sometimes pick up "top programming" (including PSAs) from terrestrial stations, giving a "double hit."
To extend reach, Natkins advises developing work with particular stations and formats in mind.
Strauss cites the adult contemporary format, which "caters about 60/40 to a female audience," as a good fit for women's health issues. He also notes that many terrestrial stations, including Radio One, are increasing Black and Spanish-language programs, and "tend to be more interested in and able to run PSAs" that are targeted correctly.
Strauss recently got good results for a Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation PSA by producing it in English and Spanish for markets such as Miami, Dallas, and Houston. "Spanish speakers aren't listening exclusively," he says. "Be sensitive to the geography of stations. [Use] a native speaker."
Typically, Strauss says PSAs related to health, education, and child safety get picked up most. Considering ways the subject matter relates to geography and timing can also increase pickup. Strauss did well last year with a sunscreen PSA for Walgreens in Atlanta, which is known for hot weather.
Customizing messages helps distribution. "We try to customize to each market with local statistics," Birnbaum says. Pfizer PSAs about lowering cholesterol, for example, are customized with local heart health statistics.
Birnbaum also stresses following up after the PSA with stations to get metrics, which help to determine what part of it worked. "Send reply cards, e-mail, and call until you get the... information," she says.
Build relationships, cater to station needs
Provide length, language, format, as well as music options
Seek non-radio outlets that stream online
Ignore geography and timing in pitching
Miss opportunities to customize for the local markets
Forget to follow up and collect metrics