Tips For More Effective Public Service Ad Campaigns

Presented by Bill Goodwill,Government & Media Conference, Washington, DC

Most non-profit organizations qualify for broadcast public service air time, including associations, local, state, and federal government agencies, think tanks, health organizations, unions, foundations and many others. In short, competition for air time is intense and getting tougher each year. Besides competition, planners must to think about appropriate formats for stations geographic considerations, and how materials will be packaged. On the plus side, a radio PSA campaign can be produced and distributed with a modest budget, yet yield air time valued in the high six figures. The following suggestions will help you get the maximum return on your next radio PSA campaign:

1. Include The Networks

There are dozens of radio networks ranging from National Public Radio to Satellite Music Network. You should know which ones accept PSAs, the materials they require and the contact person to deal with at each one.

2. Develop a Strategic Distribution Procedure.

With over 11,000 radio stations in the country, which ones should you target? Radio can help you segment target audiences in a variety of ways including: age, racial composition, education, geography, and lifestyle. However, unless you are mailing to every station in the country, you need to identify your primary and secondary target audiences, where they live, and what stations reach them most efficiently.

3. Know What Type Of Materials Stations Want.

Radio stations regularly use a variety of different formats of sound sheets, cassette tape, and reel-to-reel tape. If you know what materials stations prefer and send them what they want, you stand a better chance of getting air time.

4. Provide Stations With Options.

Even though cost considerations may dictate sending PSAs out in a less expensive material format, you should always give stations live announcer copy as well. Some will use it regardless of how you package your material because it gives them maximum flexibility. Also, include PSAs in a variety of different lengths ranging from ten seconds to a full minute, which allows stations a variety of options. To add more flexibility, use one side of a disc for several different musical formats, i.e. country, rock, easy listening, and the other side of the disc with musical "beds" (no vocals) and a live announcer script. That way, a program director or DJ can produce their own PSAs custom-tailored to their particular format.

5. Use Attractive Packaging.

Public service directors are important gatekeepers whom you must positively influence to get your materials on the air. To generate maximum impact, create an attractive PSA package for your campaign. If your packaging is dull and unimaginative, they may not even take the time to look inside, let alone play your PSAs. Think about adding a second color and compelling graphics to the external packaging.

6. Evaluate Your Campaign.

We can't stress how important it is to know where and when your public service announcements are airing, and who they are reaching. You should also know what they are worth in dollar terms. Perhaps as important, you should know where they are not playing. Consider the following questions:

  • What are we getting for our money?
  • In which of our primary markets are we getting air time and where are our weaknesses?
  • What kinds of audiences are we reaching with our message?
  • How does radio compare to TV and/or other kinds of media options?
  • How has it helped us educate, inform, change behavior, generate requests, etc?

7. Act Upon Evaluation Results.

Once evaluation is complete, you should use the results to improve performance. Depending upon the results, consider changing the materials you send stations; test the effectiveness of local versus national distribution in selected markets; contact stations which have not used your materials and find out why. Evaluation data is worthless unless you use it to improve future performance.

8. Consider "Contracting Out."

Even after the challenging job of getting your PSA materials recorded, there is still a lot of work to do. You've got to: prepare a budget, compile a mailing list, generate labels, reproduce audio tapes and scripts, print packaging elements and supervise labeling and mailing. You may actually reduce costs and use your staff more productively by selecting a full-service vendor to handle these, but tedious details. Also, when it comes to analyzing results, management usually reacts more favorably to external evaluation because they feel it is more credible. Often they regard reports prepared by internal staff a case of the fox guarding the hen house.