Whether you’re new or not to the nonprofit space, I bet you’ve heard, “oh, you should create a public service announcement (PSA).” It’s because they are one of the very few marketing privileges for 501(c)(3)s. They look like ads, but the media run them for free. So, sure, you should take them up on this amazing offer, but before you start aligning your marketing strategy, budget and expected outcomes, make sure you stop and set yourself up for success with the right guidance and input.

Remember that saying “if a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound?” If you create a great PSA, but it doesn’t get on the air, we know it doesn’t get heard…and your cause doesn’t benefit. For eight years now, we’ve been surveying PSA Directors about factors that help get a PSA on the air. We think the results reveal pretty clearly how you should approach a PSA program for your nonprofit so it works as hard as it can to further your mission and your marketing objectives.

Download the full report here, or keep reading for the top five highlights.

1. Rules are rules.

Rules about what qualifies your ad to be a PSA are not meant to be broken. There are two big no-nos. You can’t ask for money. And you can’t mention any corporate partners (ones that may have the money to buy ad space). It needs to be a message that doesn’t come across as self-serving for the organization but instead focuses on the mission and the benefit to society.

2. Localize your pitch.

Your PSA may be evergreen and maybe not geo-specific, but your marketing should absolutely be localized. PSA Directors care deeply about what is happening in their “backyard” and want messages on the air to help their viewers. Make sure you have examples of how your organization is making a difference in that MSA, DMA, or zip.

3. Respect that you are asking for something for free.

PSAs are programmed in to run when there is unsold ad space. So, you have to take what you can get. If you have a time-sensitive message, make sure to get your PSA to PSA Directors at least a month before you want it to air. That way, you’ll have the best chance of getting in rotation and airing when you need.

4. Send out your PSA at the beginning of the year.

There are times of the year when there just always seems to be more space for PSAs – January/February and July/August. That’s not to say if you launch your PSA in April that it will get no play, it just might take longer to get rolling. Anticipate these two PSA “seasons” and get your PSA in the hands of the media at the ripest time.

5. Time your launch and need for airings strategically around the election calendar.

Next year is an election year. That means unsold inventory will probably be minimal, especially in hot/contested political markets. Make sure to do your research before you launch a PSA during this time.

Don’t forget to download the full report and dive into the feedback. And don’t hesitate to reach out if you want a time-proven partner that can help you leverage your PSA for a winning marketing strategy!

Julia McDowell is a PSA Specialist with nearly 15 years launching successful PSA campaigns nationwide.