PSA’s are effective ways of raising public awareness about an issue, recruiting volunteers, and informing the public of an upcoming event. PSA’s are messages “in the public interest” that are usually run for nonprofit organizations about programs and services that will benefit a community. PSA’s may appear as print or broadcast ads, Internet ads, or as donated billboards. However, PSA’s are more prevalent in broadcast media than in newspapers, because stations have licensing requirements to serve the public interest, whereas print and online media do not share this obligation.
Over the years, many nonprofit organizations grew disenchanted with PSA’s because they became increasingly difficult to get placed. That is no longer the case, according to Howard Benenson, chairman of Benenson and Jansen, a Los Angeles-based branding agency that specializes in working with the nonprofit sector. According to Benenson, “in general, it is easier to place PSA’s today than ten years ago. There are more outlets available due in large measure to the growth of the cable networks.” “Plus,” added Benenson, “the Internet has opened up to be a great PSA resource.” Benenson believes that the corporate trends have also created more opportunities to place PSA’s. “Fortunately, we are in a mindset today where more and more media management executives and corporations are recognizing the opportunities associated with connecting to causes,” he noted.
PSA’s for broadcast on either radio or TV are generally fifteen- or thirty-second spots. Stations donate the time and determine when the spots will air. More and more often, PSA’s are presented as a joint effort of the sponsoring agency and the station. Stations encourage PSA’s to include a phone number or Web site so that their audience can obtain more information.
PSA’s are submitted on paper, audiotape, videotape, or digital files as required by the station. Print ads vary in size, depending on the publication’s layout and available space. If your ads are produced digitally using a common graphics program, the publication can easily reformat the ad to fit the space available. Do not pass up free community newspapers and shopping guides when considering PSA’s; they get read, and people tend to keep them around for a long time, unlike a daily newspaper.
Although the space and time for PSA’s are free, production is not, and the cost can vary, depending on whether you pay an advertising agency to produce the PSA’s for you, whether you get them to do it pro bono, or whether you have the radio station produce the spot.
Whatever route you choose, you should have clear objectives for your PSA campaign and a specific audience in mind. Ads should be memorable, relevant, and believable, and they should provide information that audiences can act on, rather than simply generate name recognition and nothing else.
Remember, too, that hundreds of new PSA’s are distributed to radio and TV stations each month and that many just sit on a shelf. Competition for public service time and space is very intense. Although neither radio nor TV stations are now required to donate a specific amount of time to PSA’s, stations are obligated (as a condition of their FCC licenses) to determine local needs and to respond to the communities they serve. Their airing of PSA’s provides concrete evidence that they take that job seriously.
There are ways to make yours stand out from the rest and improve its chances of airing. Here are a few simple steps to follow:
Watch, read, and listen to local media. Become a student of PSA’s. Watch for them on your local TV and cable stations and in your newspapers. Listen for them on the radio. Knowing what types of spots your local media use gives you an opening when working to place PSA’s.
Make a call, or conduct research on the Internet. To ensure that PSA’s receive regular airtime and print space in your community, make personal contact with the public service manager responsible for PSA placement. Call the station or newspaper, and ask whom you should contact about placing a PSA (often that person’s title is public service director). Knowing the right person to contact is important, as these gatekeepers decide which PSA’s will be awarded time and space, as well as when they will appear. TV and radio stations may post PSA information on their Web sites.
After you have found the name of the person in charge of PSA’s, set up a meeting with that person. Personal contact is the best way to have PSA’s placed, because it gives public service managers a local connection to your issue.
Be prepared. Preparation for a face-to-face meeting can mean the difference between enjoying success and having your PSA sit on the shelf.