First PSA Symposium - "Great ideas, New Directions" Judged a Huge Success
A one-day seminar about public service announcements brought
together about 50 federal and state communicators and about 50 producers,
ad agency representatives, and corporate public relations officials. Conference co-sponsors, Arbitron, Inc. and Syracuse University's S.I.
School of Public Communications, titled the session "Great Ideas, New
Directions" and billed it as the first
conference dedicated exclusively
to the design, production and distribution PSAs.
Held in Washington, D.C.'s, Madison Hotel, the program included several
well-credentialed speakers and examples of what constitutes
and bad PSAs. The program focused on sharing production and marketing tips
to improve station play, with the emphasis on television.
Speaking on new strategies and trends in PSAs for the '90s, Bob Druckenmiller,
executive vice president of Porter/Novelli, Inc.,
observed that the average
cost to produce a commercial spot way back in 1987 was $145,600. Larger advertisers
generally spend $200,000
and more, Druckenmiller said. PSAs, which are
produced for less, must compete for the viewer's attention in a
marketplace cluttered with
a myriad of messages, many with very high production
values. He also pointed out that up to 61 percent of all PSAs distributed to TV
stations are sent in the wrong format. Druckenmiller counseled PSA
distributors to do a better job of matching spots to a station's
requirements and saying "thank you to cooperative broadcasters who
run PSAs. All too often, he noted, there is no
follow-tip after stations
are sent PSAs.
What PSAs receive the most attention these days? At the conference the
answer was obvious. Measured in terms of production money
being spent and
amount of air time received, campaigns about the prevention of drug abuse
and spots designed to thwart the spread
of AIDS dwarf all others. Ogilvy & Mather's president for public affairs was on hand to review
his company's successful (and
sometimes controversial) AIDS PSAs. Steve
Rabin produced many of these spots for the Office of the Surgeon General.
Speaking after Rabin was Rose Mary Romano, chief of the National Institute of Health's Public Information
Branch, Office of Smoking
and Health. Romano described today's PSA environment
as "schizophrenic," because viewers have too many information channels
from which to get information on social issues, and stations have been deregulated, eliminating many
reporting requirements that
dictated a greater use of PSAs. Among the tips she
shared with those attending:
- Invest most of your time and resources in the creative process. Remember
that your PSA must often compete for available
time with AIDS or drugs
"megacampaigns." A heavy investment up front will produce a more
competitive spot in the end.
- Consider doing away with "bounce-back cards" and using a
telemarketing source or doing telephone surveys to measure
of a PSA distribution. Buy a monitoring service if you can afford it, such
as Arbitron's BAR Reports, or
Nielsen's new tracking service called SIGMA.
Providing a state perspective was Virginia Newman, who handles AIDS
public information for Florida. Newman explained her state's
arrangement with Florida broadcasters associations, which nets her office
$1 million in spot TV time for a $250,000
Florida's AIDS PSAs are aired as "non-sustaining commercial announcements."
This guarantees air play in all day parts
and provides the state with a
"notarized affidavit of performance. Many conference attendees challenged the wisdom of this
and expressed concern
with the idea of paying what amounts to a placement fee for the preferential
treatment. Several warned that
this trend could hurt other worthy causes
that are not well funded and must rely on traditional free PSA airtime.
acknowledged the concerns, but claimed the Florida payments to broadcaster
associations did not seem to be having any negative
effects on other public
An enlightening address by ABC-TV's Chris Hikawa focused on the chances
of getting PSAs aired on network television. Ms.
Hikawa is the network's
vice president for broadcast standards. She revealed that ABC and the other
TV networks receive
1,500 PSAs per year from hundreds of organizations.
She advised all PSA producers to clear scripts with the networks prior
to production to avoid spending money on a spot that does not meet network
According W Hikawa, 30 seconds is the preferred length for a spot on the
network, but 15-second spots are also very desirable. For network use,
subject matter addressed by a PSA must be national in scope and not
be political or controversial. Hikawa underscored
that corporate names must not appear in PSAs. Also,
there must be no direct solicitation of funds from viewers. Every
on ABC must include the name of the sponsoring organization, Hikawa said.
PSAs do not compete for time with
commercials on ABC because each is scheduled
She claimed that availability of PSA time slots is good today because all
networks are making frequent program schedule changes.
She noted that when
programs of shorter length are moved into longer time slots, there is often
not enough time to sell
commercial minutes, opening up more available slots
Comments from Gold Screen Judge and the Ad Council
Next spoke two-time NAGC Gold Screen Judge Roger Vilsak, a respected
Washington-based producer of PSAs for the Coast
Guard, Selective Service,
Savings Bonds, and others. Using many examples from U.S. and British television,
demonstrated how to produce award-winning, eyecatching spots.
The luncheon speaker was Ruth Wooden, president of The Advertising
Council. She described her organization's role
in public service advertising
and screened recent spots produced to combat drug abuse. Wooden predicted
in PSAs, such as a renewed focus in America to solve community
problems, with media informational campaigns playing a
Focus on the Drug Problem
Anti-drug PSAs and distribution/evaluation tactics dominated the afternoon sessions. An absorbing presentation
was given by Tom Hedrick, executive director for "The Media Advertising
Partnership for a Drug-Free America."
Hedrick stipulated the continuing need to "sell" the media on
the importance of their cooperation. His group
has produced hard-hitting,
emotional, memorable PSAs that have captured a lion's share of PSA time,
nationwide. He shared
some basic production philosophy to which he attributes
his successful anti-drug campaigns:
- Seeking to change attitudes through a PSA campaign is easier than seeking
to change behavior. Attitudinal change will
produce behavioral change over
- Great advertising creates drama through interpersonal dialogue and
strong visual images.
- PSAs will help cure America's drug epidemic. They will reduce the demand
for drugs and that will eventually force
reduction in the supply of drugs.
Bill Goodwill, CEO of Goodwill Communications, reviewed the most successful tactics for distributing PSAs, how
important evaluation is to the overall PSA program, and how to use evaluation data to improve the success of a non-profit's
PSA program. "Our company was very proud to be involved in bringing this Symposium together," observes Bill Goodwill,
and we hope there will be many more like it in the future."
Attendees went away with a better
appreciation of a complex and competitive business, along with new insight
on how to resolve
common production and placement problems. Because so
many major PSA producers in the U.S. were represented at the conference,
the end result will hopefully be an overall increase in the quality of PSAs over the
next few years. Tune in and find out.