Public service announcements (PSAs) began with the efforts of radio stations and advertisers to support the troops during World War II. Since then, PSAs have expanded to include publicizing community events as well as programs, services and activities for nonprofit organizations and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels. Anything that serves the community's interests can receive this free publicity.
A PSA has just 10 to 60 seconds to get the sponsoring organization's message across to the radio or TV audience. So the message must be brief and get the audience's attention quickly. Sometimes it's best to keep the PSA simple. Other times, attracting TV and radio programmers and their audiences might require a more dramatic, engaging approach. A PSA must answer the questions who, what, where, when and why using the strongest arguments, the most appealing characters and the right tone and information to persuade the audience to pay attention to the message and act on it.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires TV and radio stations to donate a small portion of their airtime to support the community. Sending community calendars and PSAs over the airwaves helps fulfill this requirement. Many newspapers carry print versions that can be part of an organization's overall marketing campaign.
Mailed notifications --- brochure and pamphlets -- and phone calls work fairly well as reminders for people to act. Other media, such as signs, posters, T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and websites, keep the organization or event in the public eye. As part of the marketing campaign, however, PSAs can use both audio and visual prompts to persuade audience members to change their beliefs and behaviors or to act in ways that benefit the sponsoring organization.
One of the best ways to make sure that PSAs and the other marketing campaign techniques reach the audience is through repetition. It is also important to reach across language barriers by producing PSAs in the other languages within the community. Such information might include PSAs on immunizing children or Red Cross programs.