Getting Traction with your Public Service Announcement

Your organization, company, band or charity is holding or supporting an not-for-profit event or moving to a new location and part of the production process is advertising it. You have created a program, made posters, paid for ads and are now looking for some publicity or media coverage. You want your public service announcement (PSA) to gain some traction in the press so you create a one page document and send it out to affilliated outlets.

The goal of a PSA is simple: To get someone or group of someones to take a specific action. It’s not to talk about a sponsoring organization. It’s to motivate the targeted audience to act:

To drop off the canned goods for the food drive.

To make sure their children’s seat belts are buckled.

To stay in school....To stop smoking....To avoid abusing drugs.

Your first question must be, “Is this message important enough to publish/broadcast?”

Your second question must be, “Is this message relevant to the audience of the broadcaster or influencer?”

You might have a local Community Theatre Company, legally organized as a non-profit organization. Technically, that Community Theatre Company meets the requirements of a PSA sponsor.

Perhaps the Community Theatre Company wants a local station to broadcast a PSA that tells people the time and location of the company’s next regularly scheduled meeting.

Should the station air such a PSA? Probably not, because the message is relevant to very few members of the audience of the broadcaster or influencer.

The Community Theatre Company can contact every member (via mail, fax, telephone, its website and/or e-mail) without utilizing the public airwaves or newspapers.

Most people who write PSAs do so from the point-of-view of the sponsoring organization: “The Smallville Community Theatre Company is fundraising to build a sound booth and prop storage space collecting donations from September to May. If you would like to donate, please go to our website and click on the PayPal button.

Notice how easy it is to talk about the results of the fundraiser: “What happens backstage at the theatre probably doesn’t interest you much. You want to enjoy the show and talk about it with friends after. But a great script and a talented cast need technical support and when our volunteers raise their hands to help out backstage, they need a quality sound and lighting booth to enrich your experience.”

Ever notice how some commercials speak in a language that you only seem to

hear in commercials? “Our quality merchandise and competitive prices....Our friendly, knowledgeable staff....Our wide selection from which to choose....” Don’t speak that language in your PSA!

But if you don’t use the kind of artificial language you hear in some commercials, what language can you use? The language you use every day. Instead of, “To obtain participation details,” you say, “To find out how to participate.” Or, even better, “To find out how you can help...”

A PSA does nothing more than open a conversation with the audience. Make your message personal to them; make it easy for them to relate to: “Do you enjoy our shows? Are you a regular patron that brings new friends with you? Have you ever wanted to be on stage with the actors? At Smallville Community Theatre Company, we know that you’d like to help. That’s why we have made it easy to contribute to our “raise the roof campaign”

The “core message” is the one thing you want the audience to hear, to understand, and to remember. Many PSAs (and many commercials) make the mistake of trying to get the audience to do more than one thing. A PSA can ask people to donate food. Or money. Or time. But it shouldn’t ask for all three.

You know what your PSA is about, because you’re the one who created it. But the audience doesn’t have the advantage of your inside knowledge. The audience needs to be able to understand the message the first time it airs. So in addition to making sure you have just one Core Message, you also must make it very clear. It’s your job to communicate. It’s not the audience’s job to figure out what you really mean.

A good public service announcement is for the good of the community. For it to do good for the community, your PSA must:

Attract the attention of your target audience

Speak to the audience in their own language

Relate to the audience’s lives

Deliver a single core message

Deliver the message with clarity

Motivate the audience to get into the act. And before it can do all that, it must accomplish one other goal: Get played on the TV or radio station! It’s not enough to say, “Please play this PSA because it’s very important to us.” You must be able to say, “You should play this PSA because it’s very important to your audience and to your community.”

Thanks to the Kansas Association of Broadcasters for some valuable information found herein.

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