How to write a Public Service Announcement.
A Public Service Announcement (PSAs) is short, community-oriented message that radio stations air in order to fulfill their obligation to serve the public interest. They are a cost effective way for PR professionals and their non-profits, to raise awareness about the benefits their organizations provide. They can also be targeted to preferred demographics or markets. Radio stations are provided with the PSA’s as audio files – typically recorded as 30 or 60 second messages. These files can be accompanied by scripts for announcers to read live on air.
Radio Stations have a vested interest in serving their communities, and they really do want to help you promote your message. However, depending on the time of year and the markets you want to reach, there might be dozens of other organizations competing for airtime.
Here’s 5 things you need to know to make sure that your public service announcement reaches the right audience.
PSAs should be linked to a 501(c)(3) tax exempt, non-profit organization with local or national recognition. One way to ensure that your public service announcement gets the attention of Public Affairs Directors is to include an appeal on your organizational letterhead, signed by your Communications Director or your President. You’ll also want to direct their attention to your website and social media pages where they can find more information.
Every station has a different vetting process, but here’s a typical example from a station website of their requirements for submitting a PSA:
To Submit a PSA please email our PA Director with the following info:
- 501(c)(3) Charity/NonProfit official name
- Description of event, initiative or cause
- Name of event, date, time and location, and a website if there is one.
- Description of who your organization benefits, and how donations work (what portion of the proceeds go to the beneficiaries)
- Your name, title and phone number
2.) Keep It Simple – Easy – Quick
The key is to make it simple for stations by providing them with an easy way to download from a selection of formats, and a quick way to let us know if they’re using it. Years ago, we would record the public service announcement onto CDs which we mailed to stations with a letter, a copy of the script, and a self-addressed stamped postcard for them to respond. It worked fine, but now that we use email and digital audio files, we get a much higher rate of participation.
3.) Format & Delivery
It’s best to create both a 30 second (50-75 words) and a 60 second (100-180 words) version of your public service announcement, and to include the scripts of both versions. Some stations won’t air the produced piece, but will instead enlist one of their hosts to read it on-air — we call that a “reader.” For our American Cancer Society PSA, we ended up creating a 15-second reader script as well, after several stations requested something shorter than the 30-second. (Click on sample scripts below)
Keeping in mind that emails with multiple attachments (like your audio files) from unknown senders often get flagged as spam – craft an introductory e-mail that includes a letter, the text of the PSA, and a link to a website or a Dropbox folder from where they can easily download the audio and scripts.
Stations often schedule the rotation of their PSAs months in advance. If you are promoting a time-sensitive event, you’ll want to begin reaching out to stations 6-8 weeks prior to the event date.
4.) Follow-up & Tracking
Some radio stations post a disclaimer about PSAs saying that “due to the volume received, we are not able to acknowledge receipt of your submission.” This is why it is essential that your campaign employs a well-structured effort to follow-up through phone calls and e-mails to as many stations as possible. This subsequent contact is also another opportunity to pitch the merits of your cause and enroll the station representative into airing your PSA.
You’ve got to make it super easy for stations to respond to your request, even if the answer is “no, thank you.” We’ve had a lot of success with including a short response form on the same website page where stations download the audio and scripts. For the Hep C Awareness PSA we created for the Illinois State Medical Society, we used this form, and followed up with e-mails and phone calls, resulting in an 80% response rate.
5.) Measuring Success – What is a good response
The frequency and duration of how stations air a public service announcement varies greatly. Some of the bigger stations might only commit to daily airings for a few weeks, depending on how many other PSAs they are running at the same time. However, if the content is “evergreen,” meaning that the PSA isn’t connected to a specific event in time and doesn’t contain information with an expiration date, it might be put into on-air rotation for several months. Expect a variety of air dates and time slots.
For each of our recent campaigns mentioned above, we distributed PSAs to 200 stations and garnered over 50 million impressions. A usage rate of 35-50% is considered a success – some stations give priority to local non-profits, so it’s impossible to know how many other organizations are also vying for airtime. Anything above that is a home run.
Radio PSAs provide highly cost-effective outreach for charitable organizations. While there are costs associated with writing, production, targeting, distribution, tracking and reporting, the airtime you get on radio stations is free.
A well written and produced public service announcement can deliver enormous exposure and benefit for both your organization and the communities it serves.