By Peyton Leisner, Content Strategist at UncommonGood – an all-inclusive platform for nonprofits to manage their operations, marketing, and fundraising efforts.
What is a PSA? A public service announcement (PSA) is a way to communicate to the public about an important topic or issue that affects most of, if not all of the general public. A PSA is communicated via radio, television, online, and via other media formats without charge so that the public is aware of the issue/topic and can take action.
Public service announcements are a great way for nonprofits to take advantage of traditional advertising tactics without the cost! By creating an informative message that appeals to the general public, you can promote your mission and incite change.
How to Leverage For-Profit Advertising Tactics for Free
Step 1: Create the message
This message is going to be different from any other advertising or marketing message as PSAs have stipulations.
In general, it needs to be 30 or 60 seconds in length:
PSA by the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS)
You should always lead with the facts! You can still tell a story and it should have a hook and conclusion, but it cannot include opinions or words such as “best” “fun” “entertaining” etc.
Some radio stations cannot demand listeners to do something such as ask for donations or recruit volunteers – rather the “call to action” has to be softer such as “visit our website to learn more”.
You also need to talk to everyone, not a specific audience. Yes – this is the opposite of every marketing rule that says to be specific & target your audience, but it can’t be a PSA if it’s only addressing half the population.
Step 2: Decide on the format
Radio stations have multiple options of 10, 15, 30, and 60 second spots as well as live reads vs prerecorded spots. By creating a script with pronunciation as well as a pre-recorded audio file, you’ll have a better chance of your PSA airing since you provided a variety of options.
TV stations and cable networks usually air spots in 30 or 60 seconds but some are playing around with 15-second spots as well. You’ll need to have the spot produced professionally if you don’t have someone on your team who can edit videos and provide at least a .mov or .mp4 file.
Step 3: Produce the PSA
Once you map this all out, write the PSA out in script fashion word for word. Then you’ll need to decide on a production budget and assess your team’s skills to understand if you can create the needed files in house or if you need to hire a professional.
Don’t be afraid to take the production externally – ask a local production company if they will offer your nonprofit a discount. A well produced and high quality PSA will go a long way with the media station as well as the listeners/viewers and make a bigger impact than a spot that is clearly not good.
Step 4: Submit your PSA for consideration
Research your local radio, broadcast television (ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, etc.) and cable TV stations to learn how to submit your PSA. Some may require knowing your 501(c)(3) information upfront, others may have deadlines for certain time periods, etc.
Be patient and know that depending on the population of your local area, the stations may be bombarded with PSA requests and take a while to get back to you. They also still have to sell spots to keep their doors open so they only allot a certain amount of PSAs. Yours might not get picked each time you submit something.
Tip: Connect with sales reps or other employees of the stations via LinkedIn, over the phone, or in person. That way they can put a face to a name, put in a good word for your nonprofit, and see if there are alternative PSA options such as loading the video onto their website or social media.
Include PSAs in Your Nonprofit Marketing Strategy
PSAs are a great way to take advantage of expensive advertising channels outside of your budget, but they aren’t the end all be all. You should look at your nonprofit’s yearly marketing strategy and map out when an appropriate time would be to include a PSA into your campaigns. Once you decide on the messaging of each campaign, you can produce all of the content needed for each campaign so that it is cohesive and less costly. Don’t forget to think of ways to reuse each piece of content! If you produce a video, you can use it for PSAs, social media and direct people to it via email. You can take still photos from the video to use in flyers, social, email, print and more.