Some Tactics to Overcome Declining PSA Response Rates

For any organization that closely monitors its public service advertising program it will come as no surprise that response rates - particularly among television stations - have been declining recently. Several dynamics are responsible for this trend:

    1. PSA Overload - the sheer number of PSAs received by stations and the fact that many Public Service Directors wear several hats, leave little time for responding to detailed surveys and telephone calls.
    2. High Turnover of PSDs - at many stations the Public Service Director is an entry-level position with a very high turnover rate. This could mean that the person who received your PSA may not be the one who is being asked to evaluate it, thus the campaign has lost much of its identity. The path of least resistance is not to respond.
    3. Lack of Clearly Defined Value - the Public Service Director, or perhaps more importantly, senior station management, may not be sold on the importance of your campaign and its value to the local community.
    4. Improper Formats - use of 900 numbers in tags, overly aggressive fund raising appeals, improper dub or file formats, lack of non-profit certification...all these and more can easily get a PSA rejected with no notice to the sponsoring organization.

To view how you should format your PSAs, go to:

These problems can be overcome by implementing four fairly inexpensive techniques when planning future TV PSA campaigns:

    • Use newsletters and storyboards to educate Public Service Directors on your issue.
    • Send reminder mailings to Public Service Directors which can be letters, postcards or blast emails.
    • Design usage reply cards in a way that makes it very easy for Public Service Directors to respond, including simple check-off boxes to indicate usage, and paid return postage.
    • Track those stations that have not used PSAs and delete them from future distribution. Our database includes something called the Previous Usage Index (the number of times any station has used one of our client PSAs which helps ensure that we are not wasting resources by sending PSAs to non-users.

      Due to competition, it is more important than ever to inform, educate, and persuade Public Service Directors about the importance of your cause. There are several ways to accomplish this:

      Send a pre-campaign alert to stations 30 days before a campaign will be mailed, telling Public Service Directors about the impending campaign. These can be low-cost letters or a full-color direct mail piece to pique the interest of gatekeepers and help cut through the PSA clutter.

      Sell the importance of your issue, and try to localize its impact. Using local data, maps, tagging PSAs, supplying stations with news articles, names of local contacts and having field personnel make personal follow-up calls are all ways this can be done.

      Finally, all non-government organizations should be listed with the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the National Charities Information Bureau. These are organizations that the media will likely check to ensure the legitimacy of your cause. If you represent a new organization, it may be wise to send a copy of your IRS 501C(3) non-profit certification to the stations, a move that is particularly important with the networks.

      (Updated 9.4.16)