A public service announcement (PSA) is a public relations tool used to publicize a variety of causes, such as a local community event or a health- or safety-related message from a nonprofit service. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires broadcast stations to donate a certain amount of airtime to PSAs.
PSAs can have an impact. A study by the National Crime Prevention Council found that 78 percent of children 6 to 12 years old recognized McGruff the Crime Dog. According to the Ad Council, a national clearinghouse of PSAs, the most recognized PSA is one showing eggs in a frying pan while a narrator says, “This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”
Making your PSA
Determine how you would like your message distributed. For your PSA to be effective, choose the best medium for your audience. For instance, many radio stations, especially public and college stations, will read scripts verbatim. This is a very cost-effective way of distribution because you can mail, fax or email a one-page document.
You can also make your PSA in the form of a radio commercial. These usually sound more professional with music and/or sound effects to supplement the message. Always use royalty-free music.
You can also make a video PSA. With YouTube and other sites that allow people to post videos for free, this can make for easier, cheaper distribution. However, if you're sending a video PSA to broadcast stations, be sure the quality meets their standards.
You are not limited to one of these options. You can use a variety of mediums to get your message across.
Write your script. Refer to the tenet of Journalism 101 and be sure you answer the five Ws: who, what, where, when and why. If the goal of your PSA is raise awareness, be sure to hit your key points: what it is, why it matters and how one can make a difference or take action.
Always include contact information. Because video allows for graphics, a phone number or web address can be seen throughout. However, if your script is audio-only, be sure to repeat the number or web address several times.
Capture attention. Using humor or scare tactics is one way to make a PSA memorable. With the sensory overload people experience today, you'll want your PSA to stand out. No matter what the medium, don't rush your script. Take time to think about how the words and images will be absorbed by the consumer. Always keep your audience in mind.
Record your video or audio PSA. Create your PSA in varying lengths. Make a 15-second, 30-second and 60-second version to give the public affairs director a choice. If you are sending scripts to be read by an on-air talent, be sure they are neatly typed and well-edited for grammar and spelling. Submit them on professional-looking letterhead.
Develop a media list. Consider your audience and your message. If your PSA is for a local community event, be sure you send the PSA to all local radio and TV stations, as well as newspapers. Don't leave out college stations because they often have more flexibility with what they announce.
If your organization has a website, place your PSA there as well. Promote it on any social media accounts you have. If you have a YouTube channel, upload any video PSAs and tag them accordingly.
Submit your PSA to everyone on your media list.
Track your PSA. Follow up with public affairs directors to see if and when the PSA ran. Keep an ear and an eye out at these local outlets to determine if they are running. If your PSA advertises an event, ask attendees how they heard about the event. If your PSA asks people to take action by calling for information, ask all callers how they found you. Track hits or views on social media.
Visit the Ad Council website to view popular PSAs to get an idea of what has been successful.
Plan ahead. Don't wait until the last minute to distribute an event-based PSA. Give media outlets time to run the PSA.
PSAs are often used as filler when there is unsold ad space. If the broadcast schedule or pages are tight, the PSA may not get picked up.