INVOLVING YOUR COMMUNITY PARTNERS IN PSA PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
Think for a moment that you are in charge of marketing for a major corporation with a field sales force of hundreds of people around the country. They are out there pounding the pavement, day in and day out, like Willy Loman, with a shoeshine and a smile.
When trying to introduce a new product or gain more sales from existing ones, would you overlook your field sales force…out there where the rubber meets the road? Of course not. That would be marketing suicide. Yet many national communications program managers overlook - or do not fully utilize - one of their most important assets - the people who can take a national issue and implement it locally.
Now apply this lesson to the non-profit world…let’s say you are responsible for implementing a national PSA campaign on an important social issue. How do you distribute it and what should be the role played by local community partners?
The controversy surrounding local vs national PSA distribution is nearly as old as the “science” of public service advertising itself. Most local public affairs specialists maintain they have a much better knowledge of the local media scene. And many of them do. From the national viewpoint, campaign planners recognize there are weak points in any local placement scheme, and there are geographic areas of the country too large for personal placement. From a PSA distributor’s perspective, both viewpoints are partially correct.
Faced with this conundrum then, what is the optimum method for distributing PSAs - nationally or locally? We believe a system that uses the best features of national and local PSA placement results in optimum impact.
"Your local partners should be able to help you transcend the gulf between national expectations and local reality…"
Your local partners should be able to help you transcend the gulf between national expectations and local reality, but you have to engage them in your outreach efforts and solicit their feedback.
Historically, many PSA campaign planners have overlooked their field offices when developing their campaign plan. Unquestionably, it is easier to simply send out PSA materials to media outlets without the extra burden of working through field offices. But they do so at their own marketing peril because local outreach can make the difference between a so-so campaign and one that performs off the charts.
It is not that difficult to involve your network of community partners, if you think of them from campaign design through evaluation. And here are the basic steps.
Step 1: Think Locally From the Start.
Just like politics, all PSAs are local. While we at the national level think nationally or globally, what or how we think of an issue is meaningless to the local community affairs director - the gatekeeper you must deal with to get your message on the air.
Before the copywriter and creative director begin to put pen to paper to write the script and think about visual concepts, it is important that they understand the local media mindset. The worst thing they can do is to try and think only of the message THEY want to convey, instead of the message the local audience wants to hear.
As the gatekeeper between you and the public, the local public service director is thinking about how your issue impacts her viewers, on her station in her community, first and foremost. Remember, to generate increased advertising revenues - the lifeblood of local stations - the community affairs director must find ways to build a stronger franchise with her viewers. If your PSAs help her accomplish this goal, your message is likely to get aired. If they do not, they probably won’t.
To put this concept into a graphic perspective, the things local stations care most about are shown here called the 4 R’s of Broadcasting. While you cannot directly impact the first two R’s through PSAs, you can produce PSAs that are locally relevant, which can gain broadcasters recognition, and that recognition is then translated into greater ratings and revenue, the things that matter most to any media enterprise.
How important is localism to stations? Don’t take our word for it. A survey of 960 TV broadcast TV community affairs directors shows that nearly 80% of the respondents – the second most important response – indicated that local information and benefit meant most to the station.
Local tagging is done more frequently for TV PSAs, because either the name of the local office, the station – or both – can be inserted easily by the station. We often do this for our clients and ship localized PSAs out directly to stations, or to the local office for hand delivery. There are special challenges for tagging radio because many stations want to use their own on-air talent to tag PSAs, as it permits them to brand the campaign for their station, making it more difficult to coordinate locally tagged PSAs.
Most common are TV end tags as shown here and you may want to use an 800 toll-free number in the tag instead of a local number for several reasons.
First, in many TV markets, there is signal spillover, meaning the TV signal may reach people in another city or even another state, and the viewers would be calling a number that may not be appropriate in their jurisdiction. Also, by using a toll-free number in the tag, calls can be traced and reports generated on the source of the calls, which can be used as part of the evaluation process.
A more exotic and complex tag is called the “donut” as shown here, wherein the front and back end are “national,” and the center or donut hole is a localized message. It is a complicated process, but can be very powerful if executed properly.
Step 2: Share Creative Strategy.
While it involves some extra effort, it is important to treat your field operatives as full partners in the PSA planning process, which starts with sharing the creative approach with them.
Since the campaign starts with creative development, you should share your creative plans or messages with your community partners. This is not to say they should have input on creative matters or message development, because we all know creating campaigns by committee doesn’t work. However your community partners are -or should be - a key element in getting your PSAs aired IF they are part of the campaign planning process from the beginning. It stands to reason that people will work harder at accomplishing a task if they feel they are included in the process.
In the older days we used newsletters and sales kits mailed to community partners to keep them updated on national plans and to show creative samples. However in the “new communications era,” it is all about the “Net.”
E-mail, intranets, a special space on your website, video teleconferences, GoTo Meeting and social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and My Space can all be used for this purpose.
The Digital Difference
Believe it or not, many non-profits spend hundreds of thousands of dollars creating a PSA campaign and then seem to want to keep it a secret. You should post all your PSAs for various media to the News Room on your website so they can be viewed and downloaded.
With today’s digital technology, PSAs can be posted in a format that is broadcast quality, so all your local partners have to do is download them, put them on a CD or DVD, and take them to the station. If a personal trip to the station is not possible, they can be emailed to the media, or posted on an ftp site for downloading.
The same applies for print PSA artwork or other types of background information such as localized fact sheets, editorials and copies of all collateral items, such as TV storyboards. All of these items should be posted to a site so local partners can see how materials were sent to media. You should also have additional copies made (in several different formats for TV) to be mailed to local outreach staff or to the media based on calls that are made locally.
Step 3: Sharing the Distribution Plan
The next step is to determine how and where materials will be distributed (local versus national), and the areas where local partners will want media materials tagged for their jurisdiction. This requires very close coordination with your distributor which normally handles all these details, to make sure the right materials get to the right people in the right format.
In pre-Internet days this was a painful process with a lot of paperwork going back and forth between the local and national offices. However, again the Web provides the perfect solution.
Shown in the graphic above is custom software we developed to permit local community partners to order either national or tagged PSAs, tell us the formats and quantities they need, and whether they are to be mailed to them or to the station. Once they complete the form, it is transmitted directly to our dub house via email for fulfillment, making the process seamless and efficient.
Providing “Actionable” Distribution Reports
Next, it is very important to share your distribution reports with your local partners so they can see where the materials were sent. To do this, we develop mini-websites for client campaigns that are on a password protected area of our corporate site. After logging into their site, the user clicks on Distribution to see a list of stations where the PSAs were sent.
Distribution lists are posted to the site, broken out by the client’s particular geographic configuration, i.e. State, Chapter, Recruiting Station, Affiliate, etc., so community partners can easily see the lists that apply to their geographic area.
In an ideal world, these lists are “actionable,” meaning they provide key information for local partners to use in their outreach contacts. Using the data in these reports can make a big difference in the number of stations which use your PSAs. However, this only works if people read the reports, understand them and take action, and that is something no distributor can control.
The way we do it, is to show previous usage information for each station on our distribution reports, so clients can see which stations are light, moderate or heavy PSA users. We call this ranking system our Previous Usage Index (PUI). In another column, we report if the station has used a particular client’s PSA or not. As shown here, if there are media outlets that have not used a client’s PSAs (indicated by a dash in the OU column), but are heavy users of PSAs, (a PUI above 20), those outlets should be priorities for local contact.
This information shows where your local community partners should concentrate their efforts, and the lists contain full contact information which can easily be exported to Excel or other software packages, sorted in any way the user wants.
Step 4: Making Local Contacts.
Obviously the skills of your community partner network will differ widely from experienced PR pros, to the novice. As the national coordinator, you must assume everyone will need some degree of assistance in placing PSAs locally, as it is a very specialized skill. It is not the same as calling the local news editor….the person you call, what you say and what you present are all different. To assist local community partners, we have written a primer on the entire process which can be viewed at: http://www.psaresearch.com/psaprimer.html. It covers everything from the definition of a PSA, to a brief bibliography of additional resources.
Providing Samples/Feedback Form
Today’s technology also makes it easy and compelling to share creative messages with media gatekeepers using DVDs, CDs and a laptop. Instead of showing a boring storyboard, show the PSAs in full motion and sound.
One of the things that makes local vs national PSA outreach so controversial is that many local outreach folks are reticent to get the materials out to the media. They may mean well, but for some reason they simply don’t go knock on the door and ask for the order.
To ensure that materials get to stations, you should develop a local contact form and include it in your local outreach toolkit. Local public affairs staff can complete it after making media contacts and returned it to the national office. There it can be compiled into a national report showing where materials were delivered nationally and locally.
This is a very important step because if the materials are not delivered to media, not only are you wasting resources, you are missing exposure opportunities which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Finally, you need to provide instructions on how to order additional materials, and how to tag materials locally if that is a requirement. All these materials can be placed on a DVD with a checklist of the DVD contents, such as the one shown above.
Step 5: Sharing Evaluation Results
Once the campaign has been distributed, the next step is to share campaign results with the field. Once again, the Internet is ideally suited for sharing information, irregardless of where your local partners are located. Our new reporting software permits us to sort evaluation data by a variety of geographic configurations, such as Chapters, States, etc.
A very intuitive way to display evaluation data is by showing the PSA coverage for a state or DMA market using customized mapping software. We can create a range of attainment that is color coded to show the degree of media penetration. The user simply rolls their PC mouse over the region they want to see, and the stats show on screen.
They can then double click on that region to “drill down” for more finite details of PSA usage.
To focus in on the areas where more outreach work is needed, we often prepare graphs such as this one showing where the exposure is less than a standard or average level of attainment.
However, if local community partners fail to act on what the data is telling them, then evaluation becomes a useless exercise. Both national staff and local public affairs specialists should use these reports as the basis for follow-up action. The follow-up activity accomplishes two purposes: sustaining and expanding current usage; and converting non-users to users.
Step 6: Campaign Follow-up.
Once you scrutinize evaluation reports, examining the stations that have or have not used your PSAs, you can segment them into these two categories.
For the first category - current or previous users - the local or national
office can prepare letters or certificates of appreciation which can be
sent or personally presented to local gatekeepers. If you walk into most
radio or TV stations, you will see many of these certificates proudly
displayed on office walls, meaning they are important to the station.
You may want to present networks, or media outlets that have provided
an inordinate amount of support with special plaques or a high-quality
premium. To view samples of a letter of appreciation, go to:
For non-users, there are several things you can do to possibly get your campaign on the air:
Many media gatekeepers - particularly TV public service directors - regard PSA follow-up calls as a nuisance, and use voicemail to screen out national calls, which they get in abundance. One way to get through to them is to have your local community partners make the calls, because they will often respond to someone in their community, which is why it is so critical to engage your partners at the local level.
Also think globally…PSAs are not a panacea…there are many other ways to get your message across to the media. Rather than asking if your PSA is going to air, see if you can find a way to sell your issue, rather than just your PSA. For example, maybe your organization has other resources to share with the station such as video news releases, or b-roll footage. Or, see if you can get an editorial placed on the station...perhaps they would be interested in having one of your representatives appear on a talk show.
Maybe they would be interested in collaborating with one of your special events such as a Walk-a-Thon or a Town Hall discussion. You may be able to involve a local corporate partner who will purchase airtime or print space for your organization, so your PSAs will air in better time slots, or appear in a better section of the newspaper.
As the demand for future PSA air time and space intensifies, it will be important to develop distribution and placement strategies that serve both national and local interests. By soliciting feedback from the field, developing a two-tiered distribution strategy, and sharing evaluation results with your community partners, you can accomplish this elusive goal. And, oh yes, don't forget to say thank you to the media that provide all that free support.
About the author: Bill Goodwill is CEO of Goodwill Communications, a firm specializing in PSA distribution and evaluation. He has nearly 40 years of field experience with the U.S. Navy, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Peace Corps, Marine Corps, Air Force, the Social Security Administration, Volunteers of America, the Internal Revenue Service and Canon, USA.