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Myths and Frequently Asked Questions
About PSAs

It is impossible to provide all the answers to the many questions that have been posed to us over the past 31 years of distributing and evaluating public service ad campaigns. However, we have provided some insight to those questions that are most important as you travel through the complete cycle from campaign planning to evaluation. In addition to these FAQs, you should also search the Articles feature at the top of the PSA Research Center home page to find additional information on the subjects in which you are interested.  You can also go to www.goodwillcommunications.com/WhitePapersArticles.aspx where you will find a variety of articles and case histories on various aspects of PSA planning and implementation. Finally, If you have questions for which you can’t find an answer, contact Bill Goodwill at bill@goodwillcommunications.com



Q: What factors should I consider when creating PSA messages?

A:  We have written an article entitled: "Creative Considerations - 10 Helpful Tips" which can be viewed at: www.goodwillcommunications.com/psa_compain_considerations.aspx.

Q: Where does my organization get help ... how can we get started in developing a campaign?

A: See the list of organizations that can possibly help you by clicking on Getting Help.

Many local - and in some cases - national, highly respected advertising agencies will produce your PSAs pro-bono, although you will still most likely have to defray production costs and direct expenses. Another technique is to contact a good broadcast or print journalism school and involve them in your effort. Some schools of mass communications are very sophisticated, and with assistance from faculty, can produce some very creative messages. Or perhaps your community has an advertising club that will take on your campaign as a community service project.

Or, Finally, don't overlook possible funding sources from corporations, foundations, or associations with a vested interest in your subject. Increasingly many companies know that getting involved with social issues makes good marketing sense.

For more information on how corporations are tying in with non-profits to sponsor cause marketing programs, click on Cause Marketing.

Q: As the producer or ad agency, what do I need to know when submitting master files to the distributor?

A:  By clicking on the link below, it will take you to an article that explains exactly what you need to provide your distributor for each type of media included in your PSA campaign. www.goodwillcommunications.com/PSACampaignPreparation.aspx To read about how to package your PSAs, go to: /www.goodwillcommunications.com/WhitePapersArticles.aspx and to see packaging templates with sizes, go to: /www.goodwillcommunications.com/PD_CollateralProduction.aspx

Q: What are the things I need to think about before hiring an ad agency, or beginning work on budgeting and campaign strategy?

A:  There’s no short answer for this question, but we have made it much easier for you to gain insight from experienced PSA producers, ad agency executives and professional distributors by reading the above referenced campaign preparation article, as well as three other articles that may be particularly useful in planning your campaign:

Using PSA Strategy to Get Media Support, /www.goodwillcommunications.com/PamphletswithPSAPlacementTips.asp"> and Effective PSA Campaigns

Q:  What are the pros and cons of using celebrities in my campaign?

You should think very long and hard about the decision to use a celebrity, but perhaps more importantly, who that person will be.  The public typically reacts very favorably to celebrity spokespersons, and they undoubtedly will generate a fair amount of publicity opportunities for your cause or issue.  However, there are definite downsides as well.  When using celebrities in PSAs, many people remember the celebrity, and forget the message.  Also, if the celebrity is currently airing on a particular TV network show, competing networks, and their affiliates will normally not use the PSAs, for obvious reasons.

Using a celebrity spokesperson can have ethical or moral negatives.  For example, how would you like to have spent your valuable production resources on a TV PSA featuring Robert Downey, Jr. just before he was arrested for drug abuse?  How would you feel about Mel Gibson as your spokesperson after his public image meltdown?  Most experts agree that if you are going to use a celebrity, that person should be involved or affected by the issue that you are promoting or of sterling moral character.  Paul Newman comes to mind.

And almost never, ever use a politician in your PSA - famous or infamous - because the media will recognize it for what it is - a chance to get free media time at their expense.

For more a more detailed article on using celebrities in PSA campaigns, go to /www.psaresearch.com/bib9500.html.

Q: What are the guidelines we need to follow when we have a corporate sponsor which is willing to underwrite a PSA campaign...how do we gain exposure for them such as tagging PSAs with their name?

A:  This is a complicated question in that there are a variety of ways - some subtle and some overt - to incorporate your sponsor's name, tag or image into a PSA, and the amount of flexibility you have in terms of "corporate plugs" varies depending upon the medium. Broadcast networks and most broadcast stations will not permit any type of commercialism whatsoever, no matter how subtle and in many cases this includes asking for funds. On the other hand, local cable and radio stations may permit commercial plugs, or visual depictions such as corporate logos.

In the broadcast TV context, most organizations that have been successful with PSAs that are paid for by a corporation, either use a related non-profit foundation to disseminate their PSA message or they find other creative ways to get their message across. Cellular telephone companies, for example, distributed a PSA through their industry trade group promoting the donation of cell phones to Town Watch groups. They got PSA airtime since their foundation was an IRS 501(c)(3) organization and their industry got credit for doing something for public benefit. They also mentioned the tie-in in other non-broadcast promotions such as counter cards, direct mail and paid print ads.

Another non-profit client got a pharmaceutical company to pay for a PSA campaign because they manufactured the leading medicine to cure the ill that was being promoted in the PSA. By funneling their corporate support through the foundation, they were able to get the message out that ultimately will sell more of their product as an adjunct to their paid advertising program without it appearing overtly commercial. This is a smart tactic because studies indicate that PSAs and editorial support have more public credibility than paid ads.

Still another group of interested parties - commercial and non-profit - formed a coalition to address the problem of colo-rectal cancer, calling themselves the National Colo-rectal Roundtable and launching a PSA campaign on the issue.

Finally, we had one client who purchased media time in the very important market of Washington, DC because they had to guarantee a certain level of exposure for their corporate sponsor.  We did not distribute the PSAs to the media in Washington, DC due to a possible conflict with the paid ads, but the same creative was distributed to other markets with no conflict between the two communications techniques.

These are the types of subtle, yet effective ways to get your message aired, exercise greater control over message dissemination and still provide some benefit to your corporate sponsor. For additional insight on the subject, go to: /www.psaresearch.com/biblio_cause_marketing.html.

Q: In our PSA copy, how aggressive can we be in terms of fund raising...can we use words such as "We need your help..." in our PSAs and still qualify for PSA airtime?

A: Here is what CBS Network says about fund raising appeals and this is fairly typical of the clearance procedures for all broadcast networks and their affiliates: "CBS accepts public service announcements which make tasteful general appeals for financial support. A direct appeal for funds such as 'send your check to...' 'send your contributions to....' 'please make a donation...' may not be acceptable. Statements such as 'please help to support...' are acceptable."

To take this discussion a step further, if you really want to get a ruling direct from the source, contact any of the clearance directors at the "big four" TV networks. They are paid to insure that the PSAs submitted to them conform to certain standards and language. If you want a list of network clearance directors, refer to the article titled: Network Clearance - A Producer's Checklist.


Q:  If we were to consider buying airtime in some markets and soliciting PSAs in others, is that a viable strategy?

A:  It can be if it is handled properly and with great care.  There was a time when trying to purchase paid airtime/space and run a PSA campaign at the same time in any medium and for any length of time would have been the kiss of death for the PSA component. However, that is no longer the case. Today, there is perhaps no such thing as "pure" PSAs. The ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) purchases paid ads and asks the media to give matching PSA placements for each paid ad. There is something called the Non-Commercial Sustaining Agreement, which involves airing what are essentially “PSA’s,” but money is paid to the state broadcast association. The advantage to this arrangement is better placement than what one would get via conventional PSAs. And there are arrangements such as corporate sponsorships which can blur the line on paid-vs-PSAs as well. Many of the military services - in fact most of them now days - employ both paid and PSAs apparently at no detriment to either technique.

Some media outlets which don't want to jeopardize their chances at getting income have been willing to overlook this apparent conflict. Other media - including the networks - believe if you have money to buy the time, you should not be trying to get it for free. The real conflict comes when you have money for a limited time, or for limited markets. Later, you most likely will experience problems when you solicit PSAs in those markets among stations which did not participate in the paid media effort, but had given you PSA support previously.

Paying for a very limited time, or on a selected basis, is preferable to a very aggressive, in your face campaign. For example, one of our clients buys time in the Washington, DC market, but is distributing the same spots as PSAs in all other markets. To avoid conflict between the two, we block out Washington, DC from our PSA distribution plan.

As a general rule, buying media time in one medium, will not affect PSA support in another medium. Unless the paid spots or print ads are clearly labeled as such, it is difficult for anyone to determine whether they are paid or PSAs. On the other hand, local media sales representative have a history of sharing information on who is spending money in their market, so it may be difficult to keep your paid placements a secret. For further background on the subject, refer to the following articles: Tough Competition for Free TV and Paid vs Donated PSAs.

Q: If we get a for-profit sponsor to pay for a PSA campaign, will that in any way affect our PSAs from getting used and why would they underwrite a campaign unless they were to be mentioned in the PSA?

A: The answer to the first question is no, because the media wouldn't know if a for profit sponsor was involved, since they are not being mentioned in the PSA itself. As for the second question, there are various ways a sponsor could benefit from underwriting a campaign. First, the only restriction to their being mentioned in the PSAs are for broadast TV stations which are more tightly regulated. There are no restrictions for print, outdoor point-of-purchase collateral, etc. So it may be worthwhile for the client to contribute or underwrite the campaign, knowing they will get mentioned in other media.

Secondly, different sponsors might underwrite a campaign for different reasons. For example, the company that produces the leading sleep aid donated funds to the National Sleep Foundation for a PSA campaign, knowing that if a person goes to see their doctor, their medication would most likely be presecribed, so that is the payback.

In another example, a leading financial brokerage company provided substantial financial support to a non-profit organization which encourages people about the need to save in its PSA messages. Why would they do this? They had more brick and mortar stores than any other brokerage for one reason, so they probably figured they would get their fair share of business. The other reason is they recognized their public service obligation, which is why most companies underwrite PSA campaigns.

In another example, an organization representing car manufacturers donated funds to a campaign encouraging safe driving because they were connected to the issue, and also their name could be used in airport dioramas not governed by restrictions that apply to broadcast TV.


Q: What do you do to “pitch” or promote PSAs?

A: The promotional techniques to be used will differ by media type. For example, when working with media editorial departments to place stories, video news releases, etc., it is customary to place phone calls to media representatives to "pitch" or sell the story or video material. However, with PSAs it is a little different, especially for TV. Most broadcasters indicate that phone calls to encourage usage are a nuisance unless they are handled properly and provide something of inherent value to the station. (See the question below dealing with Telemarketing)

There are a variety of other things we do to promote a client’s PSA including:

  • Sending pre-campaign alerts to stations
  • Sending a special newsletter we produce called Broadcasters Café to stations, which features campaigns we’ve distributed to stations(Click on link below to see sample)
    Broadcasters Cafe Newsletter
  • Using bold and creative packaging concepts to call attention to the PSA, including facts on the issue.
  • Breaking distribution lists down by local offices. (chapters, affiliates, etc.) with information on which stations have used the client’s PSAs previously to help with local follow-up contacts.
  • Getting client PSAs posted on the National Association of Broadcasters' Spot Center.
  • Posting the PSA to our PSA USA site on You Tube and providing a link to various organizations, including the 50 state broadcasters associations.
  • Sending press releases to trade magazines covering the broadcasting, mass communications, advertising and print media.
  • Engaging the media in some creative way such as encouraging them to run editorials supporting your issue, arranging for a remote broadcast at a special event, or promoting your special event on air.
  • Contacting the broadcast and cable networks to pitch your PSA to them.
  • Sending letters of appreciation to media outlets that used your PSAs; presenting a plaque to station management; or perhaps sending handwritten notes to your contacts.

For other media, we rarely do any type of promotion because the decision-making process is much more diffused, making productive follow-up contacts very difficult. Also, since TV contributes most of the campaign exposure - typically 85% - it is best to focus attention on that medium.

Q: Is telemarketing helpful in getting media outlets to use a PSA?

A: It depends upon the type of medium. Typically, as noted above, local broadcast stations regard pitch calls from the national level, asking them ‘did you get our PSA and are you going to use it’ are regarded as a nuisance and will not be productive for the following reasons:

First, there is the issue of cost. Our experience shows you must make a minimum of three calls to get one successful connection with the appropriate individual at the station.

Secondly, stations are being bombarded with these type of calls, and increasingly they use voice mail to screen calls. If it is the same old survey, asking the same tired old questions, they simply won’t respond.

When and if you get through, here are some predictable responses, based on many attempts we’ve made to contact stations over the years:

  • We did not get the tape at all; send another one.
  • We don't remember getting the tape; send another one.
  • The person you sent it to is no longer with the station and we have no way of determining receipt. If you want us to consider your PSA, send another one.

What everyone soliciting earned media time needs to know is that:

  • Many stations do not have a good log system to tell them if they received a particular PSA or not.
  • Many stations won't take the time to look through their stack of PSAs because they are understaffed and overworked.
  • Many stations will say anything to get the caller off the phone because they receive so many calls asking the same questions that he quickest way to terminate the conversation is to ask the caller to ‘send another tape’ which is very costly to the PSA producer.

If you must do telemarketing, find a way to engage the public service director in some meaningful way. One way to do it, is to have someone from the local community make the calls because it will mean a lot more than calls placed from a national telemarketing firm or from national staff. Secondly, try to emphasize the importance of the problem or solution being offered by your PSA in local terms. Cite local statistics and how the station can help solve the problem locally. If your PSA promotes literature or a website, send samples to the public service director so she can see what will be sent to her viewers.

Having made these points, there are a few areas where telemarketing can be very effective: national networks, high circulation magazines and newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal, and out-of-home posting companies.


Q: What spot lengths and print ad sizes are the best to produce?

A: As many as you can afford. The key to getting good placement of PSAs is to provide the media as much flexibility as you can, because it increases the chance that your PSA will get used when there is un-sold time available. This is true in all media - broadcast and print. And, don't overlook sixties for TV...yes we said sixty-second TV spots. Nielsen SpotTrac data indicates that when a :60 is included in the mix, they are used from 56-72 percent of all PSAs aired. It sounds too good to be true, but that's what the data indicates consistently from one campaign to another.

Obviously longer length PSAs are worth a lot more than other shorter lengths and contribute significantly to higher dollar values, which is an important part of campaign evaluation. And perhaps most importantly, you can communicate a much more compelling message with longer length PSAs, particularly if you have to register an 800 phone number or website in the tag which can take ten seconds just by itself.

Every PSA producer should remember that you buy video tape in five-minute increments and it doesn't cost you anything extra to mail additional spots to stations as long as you stay under five minutes in total length, including bars, slates and tone. There's no extra postage, no extra charge for Nielsen tracking...dubbing costs are basically the same - yet you greatly increase your chance of getting something on the air. The graphs below show the importance of providing different spot lengths to stations and the impact of a longer length PSA.

The article entitled: How You Can Use Evaluation Data to Fine-Tune Your PSA Program expands on TV PSA spot lengths usage.

Essentially the same rules that apply to other media apply to radio, i.e. offer spot length flexibility for best results. Also it is important to offer radio stations live announcer scripts, as well as recorded spots. Many radio stations in the larger markets will not use pre-recorded PSAs because they want to have their on-air personalities read public interest messages live. This approach helps build a stronger brand image of the station in today's highly competitive radio industry.

In terms of print, smaller is better than larger PSAs, and you should offer a good mix of sizes in both horizontal and vertical formats. Click on the following link for more specifics: www.goodwillcommunications.com/gc_support_client_corner-frameset.asp?page=gc_support_client_corner-printpsas.asp

Q: Are more stations moving to digital tape formats instead of analog?

  A: We track the preferred video tape format for every station in the U.S. and what we are seeing is a gradual shift to more digital formats, including DVDs. It is important to provide your distributor with the best quality master, which is the Apple Pro Res format, thus any tapes replicated from the higher quality master have better quality. The graph below shows the current dub format breakdown for all broadcast and cable TV stations in our master database at the end of 2013.

Q:What is the status of downloading digital files for TV stations?

A:  In a survey conducted among TV Public Service Directors from 100 stations in 39 states and the District of Columbia, 42% said they occasionally download them; 37% said never; 20% reported frequently and 1% answered that they only download PSAs. Of those respondents answering “Never “ or “Occasionally,” the reasons given included time requirements (41%), lack of technology (26%), virus concerns (3%), and station receives many hard copies making downloading unnecessary (55%).

Q: How many different PSAs should we send to the media at the same time?

A: This question is related to the one above but approaches it from a different angle. While it typically doesn't cost much more to send a large number of PSAs in the same package, the real question is will the media use them? Unquestionably, at some point, a large number of PSAs will compete against themselves for valuable airtime so it is wise to have a well conceived plan for distributing your messages. For TV, probably anything above six spots even in different lengths on different topics is the maximum you can expect to get used.

For radio, it is more complicated due to program formats and and the amount of time stations have available. However, given all the PSAs stations receive, they would rather have a good diversity of spot topics from various non-profits than a bunch from a single source on essentially the same issue.

That being the case, anything above eight would be considered excess and ideally those eight spots should be in various lengths or in different program formats, i.e. musical beds with C&W music, classical, Spanish, urban, etc. The reason for the latter is that a station might use something that has been produced to fit with its musical format, whereas it would otherwise not use the extra spots.

A very important thing to consider is producing messages that permit the stations to sell airtime around your message. For IRS, we produced radio "donuts" that give stations the opportunity to sell airtime to local sponsors. The chance that these types of messages will get aired is much greater because they bring revenue into the station.

If you already have a large number of PSAs on hand, consider distributing them in waves, rather than all at once and we believe you will be very pleased with the results from that decision as compared to sending them out all at once.

Q: What is the capacity of a CD - how much content can we include for PSAs releases- and what is the best file format for sending PSAs to radio stations?

A:View the article that addresses this question at: /www.goodwillcommunications.com/PSACampaignPreparation.aspx.

Q: Why should we retain the services of an external distributor; wouldn't it be much cheaper to buy media lists and distribute the PSAs ourselves?

A: As with many things in life, you get what you pay for. In a few cases of which we are aware such as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, PSAs can be distributed successfully using internal resources, but they have spent years developing local coalitions which help them get PSAs to stations.

There are a variety of things to consider in PSA distribution above and beyond just having a media list. For example, TV stations now prefer getting PSAs in a variety of different dub formats (we distribute PSAs in six different tape formats) and if you don't send stations what they want, your chances of getting airtime are slim. In a universe of at least 40,000 mass media outlets, you also must know which media outlets do and do not use PSAs to maximize your resources.

Next, you need to know who the decision-maker is at all the media outlets you are targeting - typically over 10,000 individuals if you are doing a multi-media campaign.

You have to have a list of all the national networks, which can generate up to two-thirds of all your PSA usage and the formats each requires.

Finally, there are complex evaluation procedures that require sophisticated reporting software to provide meaningful results.

A professional distribution service offers these services, and can handle all the other details associated with getting a campaign out to the right person at the right time and in the right format saving valuable internal resources. If you were to factor all your costs – including staff time - to do the job internally and weigh that against what you get in media exposure, professionally distributed campaigns are probably a better value.    Finally, a good distributor will help guide you through the entire process of PSA campaign development, from positioning to placement, and that should be a valuable consideration.

Q: We have a PSA that has been distributed previously, but is still very relevant. Is it possible to “recycle” it to save production costs and will it get used?

A:   Sending PSAs to stations a second time - if properly executed - can actually generate more exposure the second time around. Some of our military clients have re-distributed TV PSAs two and even three times (see article by clicking on the link below.) Keep in mind that there is a tremendous turnover in community affairs personnel at most broadcast stations and they often don’t have a good logging system to tell them what has been aired previously.

If you decide to re-distribute your PSA, there are two things you should consider:

  • You need to ensure that your talent and music payments will cover the re-release
  • You should change the external packaging to give it a fresh look, at least changing the colors of the packaging collateral

For more information, including a graph showing results of campaigns that have been re-released, click on:   Recycling TV PSAs - How to Stretch Scarce Production Budgets.

Q: How do you build a distribution list?

A: There are several factors we consider when building a distribution list and this generally applies to all media. First, you should know the previous usage practices of the media outlets in your distribution plan.   The highest priority are those that have used a particular client’s PSAs previously, then we look at something called the Previous Usage Index (PUI) for the media outlet – the number of times they have used all our clients’ PSAs.

For radio, we look at the PUI as well as the program format for the station and attempt to match the station’s radio program format with the client’s primary audience.  Also, with radio there many stations which simulcast programming – broadcasting the same basis programs on their AM and FM stations.  To avoid duplication and save money, we send PSAs to only the FM station because it typically has a stronger signal.

For print media, we build custom magazine mailing lists with publications that reach the client’s target audience and for newspapers, we use the PUI, the type of newspaper - dailies vs weeklies - and circulation size to build our distribution lists.

As for out-of-home media, we can target PSA poster placements in a different ways - by media venue, i.e. airports vs shopping centers or by geography, selecting cities, states or regions.

For print media, we build custom magazine mailing lists with publications that reach the client’s target audience and for newspapers, we use the PUI, the type of newspaper - dailies vs weeklies - and circulation size to build our distribution lists.

Q: Is it better to distribute more than one PSA on the same tape?

A: It depends upon what you are trying to accomplish and your budget. If the choice is between sending two different PSAs in the same length, versus sending the same PSA in different lengths, we would usually recommend the latter. Giving stations as much flexibility as possible on spot lengths is critical to getting your message on the air because of the random nature of unsold air time. If you have the spot length that matches the “avail,” you stand a much greater chance of getting something aired.  However, there are no absolutes in the PSA distribution business.

For example, if you have two spots - one with a mainstream message, and the other more controversial, you may want to include both in the same package to give stations options. Obviously it is better that you get something on the air than nothing. However, in many cases, by offering too many options, you will be competing against yourself.

We believe you would get a lot more mileage out of the PSAs by releasing them in two waves, versus distributing them all at the same time. There is only so much time available, and most public service directors are not going to use all the PSAs you send them just because they happen to be on the same tape. But here again, other circumstances need to be considered such as budget. If you can only afford to send out one campaign, and you have a number of different PSAs in your library that are current, you may want to send them to give stations flexibility in subject matter and spot length.

You do need to know, however, that putting more than five or six PSAs on a videotape will increase your cost without question because you must use a much longer video tape than normal (five minutes is the cost break). Also, it may cost more to track via A.C. Nielsen (ten is the maximum number of spots for the basic fee), and you may have to do a different type of storyboard than is typical to accommodate the different spots.

There is very little data to support the "more versus less" distribution strategy. For one client that distributed ten different PSAs in the same package (most were the same spot length) they generated no more exposure than a typical PSA package with only four spots in it (same spot, different lengths). Obviously other factors such as message content, production values, local impact, etc. have some bearing on the results, but generally less is more in this context IF you provide maximum flexibility on spot lengths and print ad sizes.

Q: With today's satellite technology, why shouldn't PSAs be distributed via satellite, rather than going to the expense and time to replicate and distribute PSAs via tape and CD?

A: Satellite distribution works very effectively with Video News Releases (VNRs), and ANRs (Audio News Releases), or   anything directed to the news side of the broadcast station. However, PSAs are not directed to broadcast news departments; they are sent to public service or community affairs directors who are not used to getting PSAs via satellite. They presently get all the PSAs they could ever hope to use, dropped conveniently on their desk without worrying about satellite coordinates or interfacing with the news department. Accordingly, adding anything that requires work by the public service director is one more reason for them not to use your PSA.

In a test for the National Eye Institute, a PSA was distributed via both hard copy and satellite, and then tracked separately by SIGMA. Feedback on satellite usage included a half dozen stations, all of them in smaller markets, versus usage on 91 stations which aired the hard copy version 2,606 times including many large market stations. This test indicated hard copies were used on significantly more stations, than usage generated by satellite transmission.

Q: What's the relationship between the networks and their affiliates - if we get the networks to use our PSAs, does it mean they will run nationally?

A: While you should attempt to get the "big for" (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) to accept your PSAs, it doesn't mean they are going to air them on national television. The networks feed PSAs to their affiliates in what is called an “uncovered position,” meaning they can be pre-empted by local affiliates in favor of a locally paid spot, a locally-produced PSA, or even one that is distributed to them by a national distributor. In these situations, they have no obligation to use PSAs fed to them by their parent network. For this reason, it is very important that you also distribute a hard copy videotape with your PSA to the network affiliates which greatly increases your chance of getting something on the air. For more information about this subject, see the article entitled: Network Clearance - A Producer's Checklist.

Q: What is the best way to package PSAs to maximize usage?

A: Depending upon your budget, you can spend more than $10 each for just the TV package in which your PSAs are sent to stations, but we do not believe overly elaborate packages increase usage, and in fact, can actually have a negative impact on how they are viewed by gatekeepers.  Keep in mind, by definition, you must work for a non-profit or governmental agency to qualify for PSA airtime and space.  If you produce very expensive packages, the media may wonder if you are using your organization’s resources judiciously.

For our clients, we use the very lowest cost, highest impact packages we can produce with the goal of using our distribution budget to target the maximum number of outlets.  For samples of how we package client PSAs, go to www.goodwillcommunications.com/CSP_CC_ChecklistsTemplates.aspx.

Q: What is the best way of packaging Spanish PSAs?

Where possible, you should include both English and Spanish PSAs all in the same video or audio package, even though they will be used by completely different types of stations. The same is true if you have a radio PSA aimed at discrete audiences such as college students, African-Americans, etc. There are some media outlets that will use both formats because they have both English and English speaking audiences. Most importantly, by ganging the PSAs together, it saves you a significant amount of money as compared to producing a completely separate package.

Obviously if you are releasing the two different campaigns at different times this packaging procedure won't apply. However, for the most part ganging both English and Spanish together works well, because you take advantage of the fact that your costs are covered via the English package, and there is up to five minutes of video time and 80 minutes of capacity on a radio CD to work with. Also, keep in mind that only the creative message itself needs to be in Spanish, as most people working in American media outlets are bi-lingual.

Q: To whom should I send my PSAs?

A: The key contact is different depending on the medium. For television, there may be several people who typically make the PSA decision, depending upon the size of the station and their community affairs policy. It is either the Public Service Director, the Director of Community Affairs, or the Program Director. At smaller stations the General Manager may be the contact person. The GM usually has a heavy influence on program policies, regardless of size. At radio stations the decision-making is more diffused, and again, it depends upon the size of the station. Larger stations will likely have a Public Service Director, but at smaller stations the Program Director, Station Manager, and perhaps even the Engineer or disk jockey could get involved in putting your PSAs on the air.

At print outlets, and this is very important, don't send PSAs to the editorial department. Remember, print media - like all others - is split into two camps... business and editorial. PSAs - are advertisements - even if they are being run pro-bono - and should be directed to the Advertising Director,   Publisher or Production Director for both magazines and newspapers. Most importantly, to the extent possible, you should send PSAs to a specific person, rather than to a generic title. Being aware of all the little details can help you get your message on the air, or in print, and the personal touch can make the difference in getting your materials used or sent to the round file. And, speaking of the personal touch, don't forget to say thank you to those media outlets that use your PSAs. These dedicated professionals provide non-profits with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free time and space each year. Don't you think that deserves a simple thanks?

If you don't think so, read the article by clicking on this link: "Hard Being Good - Worthy Causes but Unworthy Ads".

Q: What are the best times to distribute a PSA?

A: While most any time of the year is appropriate given the long shelf life of a typical PSA campaign, there are some times that are better than others and it also differs by medium. For TV, there is generally more time available in the first half of the year in terms of unsold inventory, particularly the first quarter. However, that is also when more organizations distribute PSAs, so things could be a little tight until new releases are absorbed into the system.

For radio, the summer time is when there are more people out of home and in their cars so that is a good time to distribute a campaign, particularly if you are trying to reach young people. For all media, the fourth quarter, particularly right after the Thanksgiving holiday is not the best time to distribute PSAs, due to the heavy paid schedules prior to Christmas. Perhaps the most optimum time is the week immediately after Christmas because it is a very slow sales period among the media and you can pre-empt other organizations that will be distributing their campaigns at the first of the year.

Also, it is a good idea to tie the release of your campaign in with other promotional activities and special community events such as the Race for the Cure, the MS Walkathon or Earth Day. The media often focuses editorial attention on these issues which can reinforce the impact of your PSAs.

Q:  What is the best way to distribute outdoor PSAs?

Due to the high cost of producing outdoor billboard paper and other unique attributes, outdoor needs to be handled very differently than other kinds of media.   Rather than spending a lot of money to produce sizes that may never be used, our approach is to solicit the media on the types of sizes and quantities they will use prior to producing the billboard paper and then fulfill based on our solicitation requests.  We have completed this type of placement effort for a number of clients with considerable success.  For additional information on how we distribute outdoor, go to www.goodwillcommunications.com/gc_support_client_corner-frameset.asp?page=gc_support_client_corner-outdoor.asp

Q: What are "ISCI codes" and how do I get one for my next TV PSA release?

A: The ISCI code system has been replaced by what is called Ad-ID, a Web-based system that generates a unique identifying code for each advertising asset, creating a capability to identify them across all media. Developed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's) and the Association of National Advertisers, (ANA), Ad-ID upgrades the previous ISCI commercial coding system, "greatly improving workflow between agency, advertiser, distributor and medium." There is no cost for a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. To download the appropriate forms, go to http://www.www.ad-id.org/501c .


Q: What is the A.C. Nielsen SpotTrac monitoring system, how does it work and what is its scope of coverage?

A:  When we receive a TV master from a client, the first thing we do is to encode the master with the Nielsen SpotTrack code that is invisible when the PSA is broadcast on the air. In order to place the SpotTrac encoding on the master for HD formats an HD SPOTTRAC encoder is required and most dub houses that handle PSAs have this equipment which must be approved by Nielsen.

One the code is embedded on the master, it is then replicated onto all tapes that are distributed to TV stations. Nielsen has monitoring equipment in all 212 DMAs around the country, and when the PSAs are aired, Nielsen's monitoring system is able to track exact time usage of the PSA. The data from that usage is then fed to our computer, we add value to their data and report value-added PSA usage reports to clients.

Q: Beyond the normal metrics of advertising equivalency, Gross Impressions, etc., how else can PSA values help a non-profit?

A: There is an important, but widely unknown rule governing how "in-kind contributions" are treated by non-profits, which includes PSA air time value. The technical explanation was provided by a Certified Public Accountant with experience in PSA valuations. You can read more about it at: www.goodwillcommunications.com/Fund_Raising.aspx"

Q: Aren't most PSAs broadcast in "junk time" from midnight to 6 AM when no one is watching TV or listening to radio?

A: Various studies, particularly data from the Nielsen SpotTrac system show that in one campaign after another, the majority (from 50-65%) of all PSAs air in the more desirable dayparts - from 7 AM to 11:30 PM. A benchmark composite showing usage from seven different PSA campaigns showed that on average, 56% of all PSAs aired in these dayparts. You may say that with so many working women today, PSAs that air during the day don't reach enough people.

But if that is true, Proctor and Gamble should fire their advertising agency because they sure buy a lot of paid spots during this time. Also, if young people are your primary target, they like to stay up late and watch music videos, movies and other programs that are broadcast in the late evening. So again, late night is not necessarily bad time. The graphs below show usage by daypart for two typical campaigns using Nielsen SpotTrac data.

If you think all PSAs are used when no one is listening or watching, take some time to browse the articles under PSA Bibliography - Campaign Effectiveness; it may change your thinking.

Q: I've never seen our PSAs...do they really work and how do we know?

A: The scholarly literature on the subject is somewhat limited, but there certainly is empirical evidence that PSAs are a cost-effective way to reach the public about important issues and causes. Notice we didn't say anything about changing behavior or attitudes which is a complicated undertaking and a long-term objective. However, if delivering impressions to an audience, getting people to phone, visit a website, or getting volunteers are your goals, there is ample evidence that PSAs can meet these objectives. For example, a campaign we launched for the USDA generated over 31,000 requests for a packet on soil conservation. Over a seven year period our Peace Corps PSA work generated 782,000 leads, resulting in 58,558 applications, 21,456 invitations to join, and 18,028 actual Volunteers. Another campaign we launched for the National Institute on Aging generated over 40,000 requests for their exercise brochure uniquely promoted in their TV PSAs.

The research data on PSA effectiveness includes two studies posted to our Research Center. One compares the effectiveness of paid advertising vs PSAs, and the other was conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation. For more details, click on this link Campaign Effectiveness.

For broadcast TV, which will generate the majority of PSA exposure, we use the A.C. Nielsen’s “SpotTrac” monitoring service which tracks PSA usage in all 212 U.S. TV markets. (See earlier question on how it works).

Q: How much dollar value can we expect to generate from our PSA campaign?

Obviously there are many different factors that affect how much usage any given PSA campaign will receive, including the relevancy of the issue, time of year it is released, media awareness of your issue, how the PSA was distributed, promotional activity, creative quality and which media you use just to name a few. Assuming a multi-media approach and professional distribution, the following benchmark data is taken from dozens of campaigns we have distributed.

On average a broadcast TV PSA itself will generate exposure in 166 markets on 213 stations and 13,000 airplays for six months. If our cable distribution service is included in the distribution plan, cable usage will add 11,000 more airplays on average to the total.

For radio, you can expect to have your PSAs used more than 50,000 times on nearly 600 stations, generating $732,000 in value (a reminder postcard will generate about 10 percent additional value). Print PSAs will be used on average by 1,299 publications (986 weeklies, 288 dailies and 25 magazines) generating an average value of $325,000.

Also, the length of time you monitor your campaign can have a significant impact on values. The number of broadcast TV airplays on average increases to 22,000 if you extend monitoring of your campaign for twelve months. The following graph shows the results of tracking at different periods.

Q: Are there other methods to tracking of radio PSAs other than just business reply cards (BRCs)?

A: Yes there is a new electronic tracking procedure offered by Nielsen s being developed and which tracks PSA usage on 2,200 radio stations in major markets. It uses passive monitoring technology, meaning that there is no code that has to be embedded on the creative master such as the case with the Nielsen TV tracking system. The schematic below shows how the technology works and our software is programmed to avoid redundant reporting between this data and that received via BRCs.


Q: What factors determine usage?

A:  In various sections of our FAQs, we address this question, but to succinctly restate the factors that affect usage, they include:

  • Available inventory. In larger broadcast markets, there is less time available due to more paid sponsors and obviously there is more demand for the best dayparts such as prime time.

  • Creative quality – it has to be very good to get on the air.

  • The issue or focus of the PSA (health, safety, emergencies and environmental issues typically perform better than others.

  • The time of year they are distributed (fourth quarter is worst).

  • Flexibility in terms of spot length (more is better).

  • How well the campaign is packaged (avoid overly elaborate packages, but it must be compelling and intrusive).

  • The number of stations targeted and the quality of the distribution process – targeting the right person and sending the right formats to stations.

  • The number of TV networks you target and how you collaborate with them. We are presently distributing to 130 national networks and we call each of them to pitch our client PSAs. For one client network usage accounted for two-thirds of all exposure and for most PSA campaigns, network will generate at least a third to 50% of total exposure if you send them what they want and do follow-up calls.

  • Last, but definitely not least, is local impact as shown in this graph. The data was taken from a survey of 1,000 broadcast TV public service directors with a 72% response rate.

Q: About how many PSAs do TV stations get and air in a given month?

A: The following graph shows the results from the above referenced survey.

In this same survey, stations were asked how many slots they had available for PSAs each week and the average number was 42 or 168 per month. In another survey conducted by the National Association of Broadcasters, stations reported using 143 PSAs weekly, or 572 per month. Annually, when extrapolated, the number of annual “avails” ranges from 2016 to 6,864 depending upon whose data is being used.

Q: What topics do media gatekeepers find most helpful?

A: Local issues! Local issues! Local issues!  Like politics, all PSAs should have a local angle. Think about this question the way a local broadcaster would.  TV public service directors are trying to increase their station's ratings because their advertising income depends on ratings. So, their challenge is to do whatever they can to reach their local viewers.

To do that, the public service director has to interpret what local issues matter to their viewers, and then use PSAs and other programming to serve these interests. Far too many producers miss this point, and focus upon great creative and national or international messages that don't serve the gatekeeper's local interest. That's why they call them gatekeepers....you need to know what they want...how they think...what their boss wants them to do... in order to design campaigns with impact and relevance.

For a more detailed discussion of this topic, click click here.

Categorically, health, safety, education, crime prevention, the environment...all the obvious categories that affect the largest number of people are the issues broadcasters air most frequently. If your issue doesn't fit one of these categories, think about a different spin, or position your issue differently to make it more acceptable and topical. For example, if you develop programs for overseas development, try to focus on the domestic and local benefits in your campaign, which we recommended to the Peace Corps and it made a significant difference in impact. And, if there is any way to portray and depict children in your TV PSA, take that route. Due to the Children's Television Act, stations are clamoring for good children's programming because the FCC requires stations to air a certain number of hours of positive children’s programming.

Q: Does the federal public interest standard still remain - i.e. are all TV stations required to air PSAs?

A:  The short answer is no, and they never were, but this question deserves a more detailed explanation. In spite of a very widespread misperception, stations were never mandated to use a prescribed level of PSAs. What they are required to do is to broadcast in the 'public interest.' Along with airing PSAs, stations can use a variety of programming to meet FCC requirements, including community calendars, editorials, longer specials on a community issue, and participating in community events.

However, there is one issue where the FCC does mandate a prescribed level of public interest programming, which is called the Children's Television Act, but again, PSAs are not the only way for broadcasters to meet this requirement. The Act calls for every full-service TV station to air at least three hours per week of "core educational programming," which is defined as "serving the educational and informational needs of children as a significant purpose." They must be aired between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.; be a regularly scheduled weekly program; and be at least 30 minutes in length. Stations also have reporting requirements to prove they are meeting this mandate, and can be fined if they do not do so.

Also, remember cable TV is not regulated by the FCC, so their obligations to the public interest are very different, and they are much more flexibile in the types of programming they use.

Q: What are some creative ways of getting our message out?

A: The ideas are boundless, if there is an ample promotional budget. Some clients stage press conferences, others send out pre-campaign mailers, some stage local events to which the media are invited, some try to have local community partners call stations, and still others use non-PSA techniques such as social media - Facebook, Twitter and You Tube - to reinforce their PSA message. Also see the section which provides more ideas on how to promote your campaign.

Q:  Print PSAs seem to be the “weak sister” of our campaign.  What can we do to get more print PSAs published, particularly large circulation magazines?

From a distribution perspective, print in some ways is the most challenging medium to get PSAs placed, because of the diffused decision-making at print media outlets.  Unlike broadcast media, where there is usually one or two people who make the decision about PSA usage, it could be a variety of different decision-makers at print, ranging from the Ad Director to the Production Department. 

Secondly, unlike most broadcast media outlets which program 24/7, a print medium which has not sold enough advertising, simply cuts back on the number of pages that they will publish, thereby leaving less space for PSAs. What this means, is to get your print PSA into the remaining space available, takes hustle and planning.

Our clients who have been most successful with magazine placements had their staff make follow-up phone calls to magazines to ensure that the appropriate person got the PSAs and the right kinds of materials. If not, new packages were sent.  Also, you can ask your distributor to sort their mailing list by circulation size or by type of publication so you zero in on those that are most important to your issue.

Some of the blame could be due to weak creative.  For a treatise on this subject, review the article, Why Bad Things Happen to Good Causes or perhaps more importantly, make sure your creative team or ad agency reads this important document. For additional information, read: The Case for Print PSAs.

Q: What are the standard banner ad sizes?

A: According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which is the leading online global advertising industry trade association, the following sizes are standards in the industry:

Standard Banners: (sizes in pixels)

Banners & Buttons
728 x 090
468 x 060
120 x 240
234 x 060
125 x 125
120 x 090
120 x 060
088 x 031

180 x 150
240 x 400
250 x 250
300 x 250
336 x 280

160 x 600
120 x 600

For additional information on banner ads, go to Banner Report.