As the world stopped, and countries and whole continents went on lockdown due to the COVID-19 health pandemic, not even parts of the media industry were immune from the economic slowdown. While the news was saturated with COVID-19 stories, the advertising (paid media) industry was flooded with unsold inventory as brands cut back or put a halt to their plans. Fortunately, for those nonprofit brands with public service advertising efforts underway or plans to launch new efforts, primetime supply was now, and still, available to PSAs. In 2020 we saw unprecedented support for public service messages, COVID-19 or health-related or not.

Our ninth annual Public Service Director survey launched at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, so we wanted to check back in before the year came to a close. We love data of all sorts, but we really dug into what these stats mean for your PSA campaigns now and planning for the future. We boiled it down to our top ten takeaways and actionable next steps. We know there will continue to be uncertain times, so for nonprofits like yours, it’s even more critical to leverage all of your unpaid options to earn awareness, understanding, and engagement in your important message.

This 10th annual PSA Preference Survey was distributed to approximately 2,248 TV and radio stations nationwide from our proprietary PSA database in November 2020.

Download your free 2021 WW Annual PSA Survey here.

TAKEAWAY 1

You can expect half as much PSA inventory in the months leading up to a Presidential election. Before both the 2016 and 2020 elections, 50% of stations said they expected to have less inventory. Post-election, 40% of stations said they had less inventory than expected.

It obviously feels premature to be talking about 2024. Still, suppose you’re aligning your marketing with your 3 or 5-year strategic plan. In that case, it’s crucial to take into consideration the “lull” in PSA coverage you’ll expect in August-November before your yearend giving window opens up. This is definitely worth a pre-planned marketing pivot!

Expectations 

Do you expect your station to have less inventory due to the 2020 elections? 

Actuals

What were avails for the PSA like on your station/network pre-election?

TAKEAWAY 2

Inventory will always fluctuate – think of PSA support as a long-term play for your brand. In a “normal” year, inventory fluctuates with the economy, and generally stays consistent with the retail calendar and events like elections. But 2020 changed the advertising industry, maybe forever. It’s no surprise that PSA Directors indicated their inventory increased this past year; this was good for PSAs. When the economy does get on an upswing it may mean that there will be less inventory. But this doesn’t mean your PSA won’t air, it just means your airings may vary more than usual month to month.

Has PSA Inventory been affected by COVID-19? 

TAKEAWAY 3

Be ready to pivot with your PSA strategy based on COVID-19. Even as the country is heading toward vaccination and another new normal, expect COVID-19 messaging to still take precedence. About half of stations said they paused current PSA efforts to focus on COVID-19 PSAs. If you are releasing a PSA during this time be ready for disruption, but don’t be discouraged. PSA Directors are committed to getting as many worthy messages on air as possible, so we’ve seen the “pause” only last a few months.

Has your station put other PSAs on pause to focus on COVID-19 messages?

Download Your Free 2021 WW Annual PSA Survey here.