Characteristics of Quality Public Service Announcements

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Quality PSAs succeed at motivating people to action.
Quality PSAs succeed at motivating people to action. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Public service announcements (PSAs) provide nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies and community service providers with free advertising space on television and radio. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires broadcasters to donate airtime to promote community events and services, encourage responsible behavior or publicize an organization as a condition of their licenses. You can take advantage of this free advertising by contacting television and radio stations in your area and asking about their PSA policies and applications.

The Message

The most important characteristic of a quality PSA is the message. Clearly state the organization's name, the name of the event or service, the website address and a contact phone number. Make sure you include all the details by covering the who, what, why, when, where and how. A 30- or 60-second PSA should include contact information at the beginning and again at the end. PSAs that will be read on air by an anchorperson or DJ should be written on your organization's letterhead and include a name and phone number for the broadcaster to contact with questions.

Voice

PSAs should be written in a warm, conversational voice. Make the event or organization sound interesting by grabbing the audience's attention in the first sentence. For example, if your organization is having a carnival fundraiser, you may want to start with a question: "Do you like games and prizes?" Make it sound exciting and mention aspects of the event that appeal to a broad audience, such as children's rides and adult activities. Read the PSA out loud several times to see if it sounds like something you would tell a friend.

Call to Action

Every quality PSA includes a call to action. You don't merely want to inform people about an event or organization; you want them to do something: "Come to our carnival fundraiser!" "Say no to drugs!" Include the call to action in a firm tone at the end of the PSA; for longer spots, you can also include it at the beginning. Effective calls to action rely on motivational and persuasive techniques that evoke emotional responses from the audience. For example, children's charities often show or describe either poor living conditions or inspirational stories to persuade people to donate money.

Radio

Radio stations fill unused advertising space by having DJs read PSAs at random, so there's no guarantee your PSA will be read. Spots can be 10, 30 or 60 seconds long, and most stations require you to submit copy in all three time formats. DJs talk at an average rate of 125 words per minute, so you can write your PSA using word count as a guide. For example, 10-second PSAs should be about 30 words, 30 seconds about 60 words, and 60 seconds about 125 words. Some stations have specific guidelines and scripts, so check with each station before you submit your script.

Television

Television stations often donate airtime and production assistance for nonprofits to create PSAs. Local stations will either help you film a PSA or allow you to use their equipment to do it yourself. These departments often operate on small budgets and work on a first-come, first-served basis, so find out what's available in your area. Always write or produce your PSA in accordance with a station's policies, which may mean producing several versions of the same message. Large organizations usually hire advertising agencies to produce PSAs for national television.

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References

  • "The Public Relations Handbook for Nonprofits: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide"; Art Feinglass; 2005
  • "Publicity for Nonprofits"; Sandra L. Beckwith; 2006
  • "Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits"; Jay C. Levinson, Frank Adkins and Chris Forbes; 2010
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