Creating a Public Service Announcement

This page is archived material and is no longer updated. It may contain outdated information and broken links. The material presented on these pages is the product of five regional symposia held on restorative justice between June 1997 and January 1998.

Media Relations Methods, Source: National Victim Center, 1990

PURPOSE

Public service announcements provide your community with powerful public service messages about victims' rights at no cost to your organization.

DESCRIPTION

Public service announcements (PSA's) can be utilized in three mediums:

  • Newspaper (print PSA's);
  • Radio (audio PSA's); and
  • Television (video PSA's).

PSA can deliver messages about your organization, its activities, or victims' rights issues in general. The National Association of Broadcasters suggests that PSA's "should sound like a cross between a news story and a commercial message." Your PSA's should be brief, well-written in a "conversational" manner, and interesting.

PSA's target different news mediums, as well as different audiences. Your methods for producing a print PSA for your local newspaper will differ from those you use to broadcast a radio or television PSA. Likewise, your audiences will differ. At times, you will want your PSA's to reach victims and, in other instances, the general community will be your target.

PSA's are a valuable "freebie" to victims' rights advocates. Producing an effective PSA usually costs little but your time and creativity. And PSA's are available only to non-profit organizations.

There is a great deal of competition among non-profit organizations for public service announcement time and space. Usually, a media outlet cannot tell you when your spot will be aired. Your PSA, along with those of other non-profit organizations, will be placed into rotation and aired or printed alternately with those from other groups.

You can work to assure greater public exposure for your PSA's by presenting them to your news media in a professional, timely manner. If you understand the PSA requirements from your local media, and you know the message and audience you are attempting to reach, you will be well on your way to developing a comprehensive public announcement campaign.

Print Public Service Announcements

Print PSA's are designed strictly for publication in newspapers or magazines. These mediums require not only good copy, but also a well-developed graphic design. Print PSA's for newspapers are published in black-and-white, while magazine PSA's can incorporate many colors. The size of print PSA's varies, and is dependent upon a publication's policies and available space.

Before you produce print PSA's, contact your local newspaper or magazine. Ask to speak to the community service director (also known as the public service coordinator). You should ask him or her the following questions:

  • Do you accept print PSA's?
  • If yes, are there any general policy guidelines for non-profit groups which wish to submit them?
  • What is the general size of print PSA's in your publication?
  • What type-face do you recommend we use?
  • Do you prefer "camera-ready" art or will your art department lay out our PSA?
  • How much advance time do you require before our print PSA will be published?
  • Do you have any example of print PSA's you have published in the past that we can use for guidance?

Once you've answered these questions, you will possess the knowledge you need to produce your print PSA.

The style and quality of print PSA's varies, as organization resources also greatly differ. However, there are some specific guidelines for producing a print PSA that apply to all organizations:

  • Keep your message short and simple.
  • Your graphic design should also be simple and pleasing to the reader's eye.
  • Don't hesitate to ask a local artist or art student to help you with the graphic concept and design.
  • Always include information about how readers can contact you for additional information (telephone number and address are helpful).

If your local newspapers and magazines do not publish print PSA's, there's another excellent alternative to delivering your message. Most of them will have a community calendar or "bulletin board." This special column highlights the activities and special programs of community service and public outreach programs. Find out who writes or edits these columns and what they require in terms of copy. Keep them on your permanent mailing list. And make sure your special events and activities are featured prominently in the community calendar.

Radio Public Service Announcements

Radio PSA's are the most widely used medium to deliver public service messages. The number of local radio stations far exceeds newspaper and television mediums. And radio formats incorporate fast-paced, continuous programming that never stops.

Radio PSA's vary in length. The most popular spots incorporate:

  • 15 Seconds (40 - 45 words)
  • 20 Seconds (45 - 55 words)
  • 30 Seconds (55 - 85 words)
  • 60Seconds (140 - 160 words).

The length of your PSA limits the scope of your message. However, it is important to always include the "5 W's" in your message: "Who, what, when, where and why."

There are several methods to bring your PSA to the attention of your local radio station:

Announcer copy: You provide the station's public service director with written copy which is read "live" by the disc jockey.

Pre-recorded copy: You provide the public service director with a cassette or reel tape of your message. Sometimes, celebrities or other recognized people will pre-record a strong public service message which you can reproduce for several mediums.

Self-recorded copy: Many radio stations encourage non-profit organizations to record their public service message themselves at the radio station.

You should always provide written copy of your PSA to the public service director of the radio station. He or she may wish to incorporate portions of your message in actual airplay. Most stations prefer copy on 8-1/2" x 11" paper; some like copy on index cards. Always make sure your PSA contains the following information:

  • Name of sponsoring organization
  • Contact information (name, address and telephone number)
  • Requested start and stop dates
  • Length of PSA
  • A brief description of the topic

It's a good idea to also ask the radio station to "co-sponsor" your message by adding a tag, such as: "This important public service message is brought to you by the Smithtown Victim Advocacy Program and Station K-105."

It's also important to know the policies of local radio stations regarding public service announcements. You should ask the following questions:

  • Do you broadcast PSA's?
  • What format do you require? Live? Announcer copy? Pre-recorded copy?
  • Is there a limit to the number of PSA's my organization can submit each year?
  • Which length do you prefer for PSA's? 10 Seconds? 30 Seconds?
  • Do you prefer written copy or details about the event or activity for your producer to write about?
  • Does the station provide PSA production services?
  • How much "lead time" (advance copy or notice) do you need for my PSA?
  • Do you prefer announcer copy or index cards? Which format best suits your needs?
  • Would your station be interested in developing an ongoing, public service campaign with my organization about victims' rights issues?

Once you obtain this information, keep it! Include it in your media directory or on index cards in a card file.

Television Public Service Announcements

Television PSA's are more difficult to produce and broadcast than radio and print PSA's. Think about what it costs to purchase 30 seconds of commercial time on television. Then remember that each television PSA eliminates commercial revenue from the station's coffers! Also, stations are required by law to allot a certain amount of time for PSA's each year.

Television PSA's should be 15 or 30 seconds long. Like all PSA's, they should include the important "5 W's": "Who, What, When, Where, and Why." The message should be simple, direct and targeted to television viewers. And don't forget to provide a written script of your PSA with contact information.

Find out your local television stations' policies about video PSA's. Ask the same questions included in the previous section on radio PSA's. And make sure you retain this valuable information!

In addition, you need to know:

  • Could the station use background footage of some of your past activities for the PSA?
  • Whom do they prefer announcing the PSA? One of your organization's spokespersons? A television announcer? Another local personality?
  • Will the station air high-quality video PSA's produced outside of its studio?
  • Will the station provide production services, such as film crew or graphic design?
  • What size tape does the station require? ½ inch? ¾ inch?
  • Can they incorporate visual aids, such as slides or photographs?

 

It never hurts to ask a station's public service director if they will produce a PSA with your organization's message. Other excellent resources are the communications or radio/television departments at your local colleges. Students are often looking for projects to develop and expose their talents.

Most states have a professional association of broadcasters which is affiliated with the highly effective National Association of Broadcasters. You may wish to contact the association in your state to discuss your public service needs. Its personnel may be interested in promoting victims' rights issues on a statewide basis, so don't overlook this opportunity!

Date Created: December 6, 2007