The Definitive Guide to Public Service Announcements (PSAs)

Public service announcements (PSAs) are the most powerful communication tool available to nonprofit marketers. They are also the most cost-effective and direct way to raise awareness of an issue to a mass audience.

Utilized by 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, social causes, and government programs, PSA campaigns can highlight the importance of an issue, persuade people to take a favorable action, or promote behavioral changes. PSAs can run on television, radio, print, out-of-home and online.

View our PSA Guide virtually below or complete this form and download a PDF version.

The advantages are plentiful.

PSAs come at a low cost to reach a broad audience. Since the airtime and space for
PSAs are donated, your costs only include creative and production, media outreach,
distribution and tracking. PSAs offer nonprofits a vehicle to keep a consistent brand
image with a controlled message while demonstrating preeminence in a specific area.
balancing out giving requests. Other upsides include maintaining relationships with the
networks and national and local media and supplementing paid media buys.

The Cons to PSAs

It’s important to consider that you can’t track donations to a PSA and you cannot control
when or where it airs. Because tracking occurs after the fact, PSAs can’t compare to
traditional media buying tactics. On top of this, there is heavy competition for limited

There are Four Steps to Developing a PSA

  1. Creative Development: First, there are PSA Guidelines that must be followed in order for a PSA to be aired. You can ask the public for “help” or to “join” or “learn” but not “give” or “donate.” Once those are considered, the next steps are creating a call to action. While you can’t directly ask for donations, you can still ask people to do something. But when you do, make sure you have a way to measure that action with a trackable vanity URL, branded hashtag, and/or call to action to access specific content.
  2. The overall creative key is to develop high-quality, emotionally compelling spots that keep the message fresh and timely. Celebrity talent is not necessary and corporate partnerships may make it a challenge to get a PSA designation. Lastly, providing varying lengths, closed captioning ADA accessibility and HD and SD versioning will provide stations with the most flexibility to air your campaign.
  3. Distribution: Because PSA directors generally have the most airtime in the first quarter, sending out PSAs at the beginning of the year may ensure maximum airplay. However, mid-summer and Q4 also have strong avails for PSAs, WW streamlines the distribution process, working with a distribution partner to handle the digital delivery of PSAs to TV stations once a year, 30 days prior to the desired airdate.
  4. Promotion: WW takes a boutique approach to PSA promotion and outreach. We only take on a handful of PSA clients at a time so that we are able to create a unique and focused outreach strategy for each client. That means when we contact station gatekeepers, we are doing it only for that one client with a Director of Outreach assigned exclusively to each client. The stations know us and take our calls. The results are the payoff. Our PSA clients are all in the top 2-5% of PSAs aired nationally in each of the last several years.

    Our proprietary media database houses almost 3,600 media outlets and nearly 4,000 individual media contacts. It includes media of all types: local and national TV and radio, print, OOH, digital and alternative media. We have personal notes, PSA preferences, and airings trends on practically all of them.

    From networks only on TV and radio in English and alternate languages, to nationwide local stations or dedicated to a single market, along with out of home and print media, we offer many options for media outreach.

    Our Campaign Strategies
    When crafting campaign strategies, WW focuses on pitching where it counts most to stations and outlets that will maximize reach, media value, and relationship potential to help you get noticed. We use very specific, calculated  steps offering both high-touch localized attention with direct mail and email outreach along with smiling and dialing regularly to keep your nonprofit top of mind. Essential to building long-term relationships with the media is demonstrating our appreciation for their support. A good old fashioned thank you note does the trick along with swag items to remind the stations of your nonprofit.

  5. Tracking and Analysis: We employ a third party to track and evaluate PSA airings (or placements), estimated media value and impressions. It shows us exactly what station and in which market the PSA has aired, when it aired, and during what programming. This is key information to track for ROI’s sake, but also to recalibrate our subsequent rounds of pitching of the campaign. We provide a customized monthly dashboard to track the success of your campaign. Network airings, daytime airings, and the market penetration of your PSA provides in-depth metrics that reflect the effectiveness of your spot.

Factors of a Successful PSA Placement

  • Creative quality
  • Personal connection
  • Flexibility
  • Local angle
  • Reason to air
  • Distribution list
  • Timing Memorable package

To sum it up…

PSAs can be a useful tool in the nonprofit communication toolbox. However, because PSA placements are competitive and the rise of streaming has impacted TV viewership, we recommend that the PSA be a part of a multi-platform communications program. In this sense, it’s essential to consider all of the different paid media opportunities out there that can amplify your message. Williams Whittle can bring all the pieces together for you, starting with a PSA campaign that stands out. Contact us to create a customized PSA program that will meet your needs.