"They get relegated to junk time when no one is watching or listening."
"They're only suited for creating general awareness-they don't
motivate the public to take action or allow us to correlate PSA usage with our organization's critical mission."
"They're expensive, and there's no way to determine their return on investment."
"The numbers we are seeing can't be real."
These misperceptions about PSAs, and public service advertising in general, are just a few that
have floated around government agencies and non-profit organizations for years.
To paint a more balanced picture of PSA effectiveness, Goodwill Communications has been
analyzing PSA usage data resulting from over 800 national PSA campaigns which we've evaluated in the
past thirty years. Following is a summary of our findings, as they pertain to the questions raised above.
Because the quality and source of our data is much more reliable for broadcast TV, than other media
(the A.C. Nielsen Company), we are going to focus our responses on that medium
Usage by Daypart
As for being broadcast during "junk time," one of the great features of the A.C. Nielsen
SpotTrac monitoring system is that it breaks all PSA usage data out by daypart (the times during the
24 hour reporting cycle when PSAs were used). If we look at daypart usage from one campaign to another, it is
fairly consistent with the majority of PSA usage in the better dayparts, and typically only 25-30% usage
in the so-called "junk time" of 1AM to 5AM.
This graph shows a typical array of TV PSA usage by the six different dayparts reported by Nielsen, which
clearly shows that most TV PSAs are used in the better dayparts.
Next, there's the question of motivating the public to take some type of action. Here again, if the
campaign is properly designed with a toll-free telephone number, or a website URL that stays on screen long
enough (a very good rationale for always creating a sixty-second PSA, allowing more time to
register the call-to-action), the data suggest PSAs can be effective. Rather than restate the details
here, you can go to: www.goodwillcommunications.com
to see several examples of how PSAs have been effective in
helping non-profits generate the desired actions to support their critical mission.
Expensive/Not a Good Return on Investment
Regarding the question of expense, PSAs can be big budget extravaganzas, or they can consist
of distributing your TV PSA on our shared reel distribution service called CablePAK, which costs $8,500
and returns on average $861,212, an ROI of 100 to 1.
Upon occasion, we are asked to recommend a low-cost, high impact production company
which can achieve outstanding results. One of these producers was a talented creative director whom
we met in doing work for another client. Before recommending him to our client, I checked his work
thoroughly and it was among the best I have seen in my 40 year career in mass communications.
He produced a TV and radio PSA for our client, in English and Spanish, for just over $40,000.
According to a survey conducted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the cost to produce just one
thirty-second commercial in 2011, was $354,000, before any commissions or markups.
He created some beautiful, engaging and poignant PSAs about a very difficult human
affiliction - Alzehiemer's.
Following is a graph of what those PSAs have generated in terms of advertising equivalency value.
The cost-benefit ratio from this campaign is 173 to 1, when you compare the production and distribution costs
to what was generated in value. It clearly shows is that you do not have to spend a fortune to create a
great PSA campaign that scores well with the media, if you get the right producer.
The Numbers We Are Seeing Can't Be Real.
Having developed the very first evaluation software for PSA campaigns in 1981, even before
the emergence of the Nielsen electronic monitoring system for TV PSAs, we also hear about PSA
usage data that can't be real, and we wished there was something that could be done about it.
On our blog and in workshops and articles, we have been advocating for uniform evaluation standards
among all PSA distributors. However, the competition for getting new PSA clients is so intense in our field, that
no one really wants to develop a uniform methodology for reporting PSA usage. To do that,
might reduce the numbers they report, and if one is trading in inflated numbers, then that becomes
their stock in trade, and their competitive advantage.
The problem emanates from the fact that there is no single reliable source for PSA data.
We who distribute and evaluate campaigns, have to deal with at least a half dozen different
sources for PSA usage data, which range from spotty, to non-existent. As a result, all PSA
distributors figure out a way to come up with the numbers they must have to plug into their
client reports. Some of us try our best to get credible data; others just make up the numbers
on the fly.
For example, we know of one PSA distributor which claims they get their evaluation data from
the National Association of Broadcasters. I guess they never thought that it would be so
easy to check on that claim, which of course we have done. NAB clearly told us
they do not have or provide that kind of data, so that begs the question of where
they are getting their data. Throwing darts at a dartboard with numbers on it
comes to mind.
What Really Counts
If we controlled the world of PSAs and public relations, we would totally do away with Gross Impressions, because they
are, for the most part, huge, indefensible and meaningless numbers. We would replace them with data that:
- Supports your organization's critical mission, i.e. generating more awareness, which gets converted into more donations
- Attracting volunteers, and getting those volunteers to recruit others
- Getting more people to visit your website, writing for literature
- Participating in your special events
- Other specific actions which take people on the long journey to behavior and attitude change
We would also do a much better job of demonstrating how PSAs help you reach your Key Performance Indicators, sometimes referred to as "KPIs," which are of course different for every non-profit.
Our limited space with this article does not permit us to delve deeply into how an organization can use PSAs to demonstrate
the connection between PSA exposure and meeting their critical mission, but the articles below provide more background.
And if I were the director of communications for a non-profit organization, I would overwhelm my board or management with
all kinds of very solid data on PSA effectiveness - data I could defend. But, there would be one large number that would never be mentioned:
Gross Impressions. They simply do not pass the snicker test, and in our view, have no part in credible evaluation reporting.
On the Goodwill Communications homepage, you can view 12 different mini-case histories that demonstrate how
PSAs helped various organizations achieve a particular communications objective. Go to:
For an article that describes how PSAs were used prior to social media and how many organizations are
using social media to achieve their objectives, go to:
To read an article that shows how PSA evaluation data can be used to help support organizational objectives, go to:
An article that demonstrates that TV PSAs targeted to teens can significantly reduce their marijuana use, can be viewed at:
An interview with Bill Goodwill and PR News on the factors that make for a successful PSA campaign can be viewed at:
Dr. Jack Jorgens, who specializes is implementing Hispanic PSA campaigns provides his insights in an article
"What Makes a Successful PSA Campaign?"
Ruth Wooden, the former President of the Ad Council discusses the topic of PSA effectiveness, over time at:
A professor, Dr. Garrett J. O'Keefe of the University of Wisconsin-Madison served as the principal investigator for evaluating
the effectiveness of PSAs. www.psaresearch.com
A research study conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) concluded that PSAs can induce significant changes in public health behavior.
An author whose professional credentials cannot be ascertained, wrote an article which we posted to our PSA Research Center
entitled: Ten Commandments of PSAs which can be viewed at:
Another author whose article is entitled: PSAs Effective In Getting Out The Message was originally published by
the Non Profit Times and is available at:
This article that pertains to PSA effectiveness has to be one of my favorites titled: Don't Make Your Bath Water Too Hot and Keep Your Dogs Away From the Antifreeze which can be viewed at: