Unfortunately, it never surprises me when I hear from nonprofits, their various agencies (fundraising, digital engagement, integrated marketing) or clients, that they just don’t get PSA measurement. I believe it’s an problem for several reasons:

  • there is currently no go-to for all things PSA (like an“Association for Brand Marketers” that has created a standard)
  • most of the PSA distribution companies don’t do education or offer their take on best practices or standards for PSA measurement
  • there is no published or relied-upon standard for PSA valuation and measurement across all industry partners

I’ve been in the trenches of valuing, analyzing and strategizing the creation and distribution of PSA campaigns for nearly a decade now and have worked with the major PSA distribution companies and clients that manage their own PSA campaigns. As Annual Reports and 990s are being created and finalized, I thought it might be a good time to speak and share my knowledge on best practices/standards for PSA measurement.

It starts with a clear methodology
I’ve worked with auditors before to give them information on how we value PSA airings and supplying a methodology is the best starting point. These are standards for media evaluation that I think should also be implemented across all PSA campaigns.

  1. IMPRESSIONS: You should receive impressions for all media.
    a) TV, Radio and Cable: impressions data should be provided by Nielsen.
    Note: Network airings (like ABC, CBS, etc) should not have impressions assigned, as they are “feeds” to affiliates. Cable network airings (like Travel Channel, The Learning Channel, etc) should have impressions assigned, as they are actual airings.
    b) Print: impressions = circulation. You can get this directly from the publisher or from their media kits.
    c) Online: if you aren’t serving and tracking your online creative, then you won’t be able to claim any amount of impressions. Another reason to serve and track yourself? You can measure impressions served, clicks and engagement with your landing page.
    d) Outdoor: like print, most outdoor companies will supply some sort of impressions data in their media kits.  It’s usually based on a DMAs or zip code’s population age 18+.
  2. VALUE: All estimated ad values should either come from SQAD or directly from the media.
    a) TV and Radio: SQAD provides media values for each market and daypart, based on actual paid media buys that occurred during the previous month. See more about SQAD here.Why do I recommend SQAD? Media values are based on multiple layers of data and here are 3 examples of why that’s important:

    • DMA specific – a spot in NYC is worth a lot more than in Des Moines
    • Daypart specific – a spot during primetime is worth a lot more than one during the wee hours of the morning
    • Negotiated rate – Most importantly, SQAD is based on the negotiated rate for each ad. The PSA value you will receive is based on what a client actually paid for an ad.

    b) Local Cable: This is where it gets tricky because SQAD does not provide values for local cable systems.  The best way to determine value for a local cable airing is to take either use rate card or ask your reporting partner to suggest a value (only if they take into account the local rates, market rank and number of subscriber households.)
    c) Print, Online & Outdoor: Each media outlet that provides insertions/postings should provide an estimate of the value. There is no SQAD for these media, so either go with their estimated value or use their rate card. I know, rate card is not the negotiated rate, but for this media, it’s the best standard we have for now.

Then employ these best practices.
First, know that every distributor and evaluator in the “PSA industry” has a different method. I don’t think this is good practice, but it’s just the way it is. We’ve implemented our own best practices for our clients and if I ruled the world, I’d make it the standard.

  1. Report required. We only count airings (or insertions, or postings, etc) if we have a report in hand. If a media outlet says “we think it aired about 25 times” or “it probably was posted for 3 months” is just simply not good enough. No one should be desperate enough to report placements they aren’t 100% positive actually occurred, although I know this is sometimes standard practice.
  2. Regular audited reports. We require monthly audited reports from our tracking sources. Unfortunately, we’ve encountered duplicate airings, valuation glitches and sometimes unreported airings (that were verified other ways.) It’s important to receive regular official reports.
  3. Consistent Reporting methods. Don’t be afraid to backtrack and add in airings to past reports if you receive reports after-the-fact.  This usually applies to the reporting of BRC’s from radio stations (since only 25-30% of all radio stations are electronically tracked). If a station reports on a BRC that they will run your radio spot 5 times a week for 10 weeks, make sure the reports reflect 5 airings per week from now until 10 weeks from now; not 50 airings today.  If you add in airings the day you received the report in hand vs. when they actually aired, you won’t be able to slice and dice your data to evaluate trends, etc.
  4. Be an expert. Unless you are committed to becoming an expert in PSA measurement, you shouldn’t be doing PSA campaigns. Ok, it’s a bit unrealistic, but it’s partially true. There is too much pressure on nonprofits to be uber-transparent and good stewards of every single donor penny. If you don’t have the time or resources, make sure you have a partner (like us!) that demonstrates they have a rock-solid methodology and the best interest of their clients at heart.
  5. Track CPM.One of the drawbacks of PSA campaigns is that you can’t compare it to traditional media buys. You can’t calculate reach and frequency and compare GRPs. But you can track your CPM calculations over time to make sure nothing is out of whack. This can be done by a simple math equation:

    Total media value / Total 1,000 impressions

    So here is an example:
    ($16 million in media value) / (700,000*) = $22.86
    *You have to take your total impressions of 700,000,000 and divide by 1,000 to get your denominator

    When you look at $22.86 alone, there isn’t anything you can deduce from it, but if you look at this number for each media (measure TV, radio, etc separately) over time, you’ll be able to catch any outliers and ask questions. One year, one of my client’s year-end media values was totaling nearly 2x their record highest year-end number. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that somehow the media values were mistakenly being calculated Cost-Per-Point rather than Cost-Per-Thousand. We fixed it and felt even more confident that our CPM calculation had saved us from a big reporting blunder.

Nonprofits, federal agencies, state governments, public interest groups and associations all use PSAs to share important messages on social issues/causes, so having consistent methods of measurement and reporting would be useful in creating benchmarks. Not only that; it would help PSAs stay credible and measurable compared to other tools in a marketer’s tool belt.

If you have any additional questions or would like a free consultation on PSA measurement, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly via email.