Ten Tips for More Effective TV PSA Campaigns

    • 1. CULTIVATE THE NETWORKS.
      It is difficult to determine the exact impact of network support because current tracking technology does not completely separate exposure delivered via network feeds versus what you get when you send their affiliate a tape. However, suffice it to say that it is very important to get network clearance of your TV PSA. To technically qualify with their requirements, you should send them your scripts and storyboards at least a month before production begins, but few producers do. At a minimum you should contact them by sending your storyboard and/or a preview tape to see if your PSA is acceptable. If it is not, they will tell you what you need to do to get it cleared which often is as simple as sending justification for claims made in the PSA.

      For more information on how to approach the networks and their requirements, see the article "Network Clearance - A Producer's Checklist"

    • 2. KNOW WHAT LOCAL STATIONS WANT.
      There are roughly 1,400 broadcast TV stations and 10,000 cable TV stations in America today. Each has its own PSA material preferences. If a station wants a Hi-Def digital file then send them what they can use, not what you can afford. You'll increase the chances of getting air time.

    • 3. PUT PIZZAZZ IN YOUR PACKAGE.
      CBS network alone received 17,000 PSA packages a few years back. The demand for network air time increased 40% in six years. The competition is tough, and you've got to outsmart them to get on the air. Your packaging could be part of the answer, because it's the first thing the public service director sees. Consider:

      • Sending Traffic Instructions along with the digital files to the station to ensure the public service director gets the files.
      • Including a four color storyboard and letter to public service directors telling them what the PSA is about and why it's important to their viewers.
      • Include some brief facts on your issue and your organization in the package. If you are not a well-known organization or a federal agency, include your IRS 501(c)(3) non-profit number and if you are registered with either of the two charity watchdog agencies - the National Charities Information Bureau and the Philanthropic Division of the Better Business Bureau. This will save stations a lot of time trying to decide if you qualify for airtime or not, and if they have to think too much, they'll toss your PSA aside and choose one they don't have to think about. Also, remember, you have about one minute to make your point, so keep whatever you do very brief and concise.

    • 4. ALERT STATIONS IN ADVANCE.
      Think about sending a telegram, note, or specially designed promo piece to local stations on your mailing list in advance of distributing your PSA. Tell them why your message is important to THEIR VIEWERS, rather than your organization's interests. Also, think local, local, local in the tonality of your "pitch" because that's what stations care about.

    • 5. USE STRATEGIC DISTRIBUTION.
      With roughly 12,000 broadcast and cable TV stations available in America, which ones should you target? You should give the same thought to distributing your materials as you did in producing them. You should be able to answer: Who are my primary and secondary target audiences? Where do they live? What stations reach them most efficiently? Which ones regularly use PSAs? Answering these questions will help you plan a more strategic distribution procedure.

    • 6. BUILD GOOD STATION RELATIONS.
      If a public service director takes the time to return your campaign business reply card, send them a thank you note. Have your local representatives take them to lunch. Send them premium items or unique certificates of appreciation. Have their photo taken with your local rep awarding the certificate. It's corny in the big cities, but it plays well in Peoria.

    • 7. INVOLVE THE MEDIA; DON'T JUST USE THEM.
      Grey Advertising sent the media a special newsletter on the progress of their anti-drunk driving campaign. The U.S. Coast Guard invited the networks to the Statue of Liberty re-dedication to see the kinds of work they perform. Other agencies use briefings, luncheons, or whatever works. The point is, don't always go to the stations asking for a handout. Make them a part of your campaign in some imaginative way. Maybe you can get their news department to do an editorial on your issue; maybe there's a way to tie the weatherman into your campaign; see if they will do a remote to cover your special event.

    • 8. EVALUATE YOUR CAMPAIGN.
      We can't stress how important it is to know where and when your public service announcements are airing. It's even nice to know what they are worth. Perhaps as important, you should know where they are not playing and why. If you don't know, your boss will probably want to know:

      • What are we getting for our money?
      • In which of our primary markets are we getting air time?
      • What kinds of audiences are we reaching with our message?
      • Where are we NOT getting results and why?

    • 9. ACT UPON EVALUATION RESULTS.
      Once evaluation is complete, use the results as a basis for taking corrective action. Send letters of appreciation to all supporters; test the effectiveness of local versus national distribution in selected markets; contact stations which have not used your materials and determine why. Evaluation data is worthless unless you use it to improve performance.

    • 10. CONSIDER "CONTRACTING OUT."
      Even after the challenging job of getting your campaign "in the can," you've still got a lot of work to do. There are mailing lists to compile, collateral materials to create, coordinating digital distribution to stations, posting digital files to download sites, and other tasks. That's just to get the campaign to the media; then there's a separate evaluation effort to organize. You may be able to reduce costs and use your staff more productively by selecting a full-service vendor to handle these important but tedious details.

      (updated 9.4.16)