Does Promotion Really Work?

Bill Goodwill

When we prepare cost estimates for PSA distribution – TV in particular – there is a line item listed as “Promotion,” and then a description of the tactics we use to promote our client campaigns. While it is a fairly modest cost in the total scheme of things, clients typically ask “why do I need to do these things – what does promotion do for my campaign?”

There are at least three reasons for campaign promotion, and especially broadcast TV, which typically accounts for 70-80% of all PSA values and exposure.

  • To educate and engage the TV public service director in your issue
  • To gain a competitive edge over other non-profits seeking airtime
  • It delivers quantifiable results

Media Engagement

It is natural to think that the issue we are working on is the most important one in the world.  However, if you were a public service director for a major TV station, your issue is just one of the hundreds they deal with in any given month. 

The typical profile of a major market TV station is an African-American woman, working in a one person department, who is over worked and under paid.In addition to dealing with hundreds of requests for PSA airtime, she has other station duties, and is inundated with calls from all over the country begging for airtime.  And oh, did I mention that she works in a non-revenue producing department, which means management does not give her nearly the resources she needs to do her job well? 

There are a variety of ways to inform, educate and engage the media in your issue, but given space limitations, we cannot address them all. 

One of the most effective is to do a newsletter which tells the media why your issue is important, and why it deserves their consideration, such as this one shown.

These newsletters are sent to TV stations as a digital .pdf file and sent via Constant Contact to stations via email.

A Competitive Edge

When I speak at PSA workshops, one of my favorite questions is:  how many TV PSAs does the typical broadcast TV station receive?  It is interesting to note that almost everyone under estimates the true numbers.  As shown in this graph, 39% of all TV stations receive from 8-30+ PSAs monthly.

What this means is that the non-profit that does a better job of marketing and promoting their issue is going to get their PSAs used.  Others who do not understand the competition for scarce time,  and do nothing to cut through the clutter, will find their PSAs sitting on the shelf.

Delivering Quantifiable Results

There are two fairly recent trends that have almost revolutionized the number of TV PSAs that get used, and the number of people who see them.  The first was when TV stations began to embrace High Definition.  As part of that technological shift, local TV stations were given up to six sub-channels which could be used to expand their programming.  Many of them use this expanded capacity to air PSAs, and thus we have seen a substantial increase in PSA usage across the board for all our client campaigns.

The second trend is the explosion in national cable networks, which have been created to meet very specific audience interests and lifestyles. 

When you channel surf, you see TV programming catering to people who love to cook, history buffs, dog lovers, nature enthusiasts and everything in between.  Numerically, the number of national TV networks to which we distribute our client PSAs, has grown from 35 three years ago, to 150 today.

Due to the reach and importance of these networks, three years ago we hired an outreach specialist, who contacts each of the networks to which our PSAs are distributed, and she sells them on the importance of our various client issues.  This takes a very gifted and special person to do this day after day, but she has performed some miracles for our clients.

We thought it would be important to isolate network reporting from all other local broadcast TV usage, so we created a separate network TV report for each of our client campaigns.This makes it very easy for clients to see the impact of our promotional activity, and is a tool we can use to see which networks are actually using PSAs as compared to their verbal commitments.

For those which had committed, but are not using our PSAs, we call them back to gently nudge them to fulfill their verbal commitment.  It is pick and shovel work, but it pays dividends, as shown by thisgraph which compares campaigns that had a network promotional component against those that did not.