A public service announcement or PSA is a public relations tool used to publicize a variety of causes, such as a local community event or a health- or safety-related message from a nonprofit service. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires broadcast stations to donate a certain amount of airtime to PSAs.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Visit the Ad Council website to view popular PSAs to get an idea of what has been successful. Plan ahead. Don't wait until the last minute to distribute an event-based PSA. Give media outlets time to run the PSA.
Creating a PSA
Determine how you would like your message distributed. For your PSA to be effective, choose the best medium for your audience. When considering PSA topics, consider how each topic translates to the medium you are considering. This will impact your PSA length and the tone of your message.
You can make your PSA in the form of a radio commercial. Many radio stations, especially public and college stations, read scripts verbatim. This is a very cost-effective way of distribution because you can mail, fax or email a one-page document.
You can also make a PSA video. With YouTube and other sites that allow people to post videos for free, this can make for easier, cheaper distribution. However, if you're sending a video PSA to broadcast stations, be sure the quality meets their standards.
Keep PSA Length and Needs in Mind
Write your PSA video script. Refer to the tenet of Journalism 101 and be sure you answer the five Ws: who, what, where, when and why. If the goal of your PSA is raise awareness, be sure to hit your key points: what it is, why it matters and how one can make a difference or take action. But no matter what the medium, don't rush your script.
Always include contact information. Because a PSA video allows for graphics, a phone number or web address can be seen throughout. However, if your script is audio-only, be sure to repeat the number or web address several times.
Choose Engaging PSA Topics
Capture attention. Using humor or scare tactics is one way to make a PSA memorable. With the sensory overload people experience today, you'll want your PSA to stand out. Take time to think about how the words and images will be absorbed by the consumer. Always keep your audience in mind.
Record your video or audio PSA. Create your PSA in varying lengths. Make a 15-second, 30-second and 60-second version to give the public affairs director a choice. If you are sending scripts to be read by an on-air talent, be sure they are neatly typed and well-edited for grammar and spelling. Submit them on professional-looking letterhead.
Distribute the PSA
Develop a media list. Consider your audience and your message. If your PSA is for a local community event, be sure you send the PSA to all local radio and TV stations, as well as newspapers. Don't leave out college stations because they often have more flexibility with what they announce.
If your organization has a website, place your PSA there as well. Promote it on any social media accounts you have. If you have a YouTube channel, upload any video PSAs and tag them accordingly. Submit your PSA to everyone on your media list.
Understand that PSAs are often used as filler when there is unsold ad space. If the broadcast schedule or pages are tight, the PSA may not get picked up.
Gauge your PSA's Reach and Success
Track your PSA. Follow up with public affairs directors to see if and when the PSA ran. Keep an ear and an eye out at these local outlets to determine if they are running. If your PSA advertises an event, ask attendees how they heard about the event. If your PSA asks people to take action by calling for information, ask all callers how they found you. Track hits or views on social media.
Since 2000 Donna T. Beerman has contributed to newspapers and magazines. Her expertise includes higher education, marketing and social media, and her presentations and writing have won industry awards. She has an MFA in creative writing, is the integrated marketing manager at a Pennsylvania college and founded "Hippocampus Magazine."