Goodwill Communications has been distributing national PSA campaigns for over three decades, and during that time we have seen PSAs that were not well conceived; we have seen some that should not have been produced in the first place; and we have seen many that overlook some of the basic rules governing PSA attainment in all media.
These campaigns are expensive; many can cost a non-profit hundreds of thousands of your donor dollars, so the central question is: Does your PSA program meet your organizational objectives, and how do you know?
In the latest series of articles to inform and educate our associates in the field of public service advertising, in this piece we are going to address:
- What is a PSA Audit?
- Why does it matter?
- What are the mechanics?
- The PSA AuditMost of us get so wrapped up in our daily jobs that we are on auto pilot – management wants some stats for the board to prove the PSA program they approved is working, and as long as you feed them some data, they are happy.
- We want to take this to another level, which is why we conceived the concept of a PSA Audit,™ which poses four underlying questions:
- How well is your PSA program performing?
- How does your campaign compare to a standard?
- Does your PSA program support your critical mission?
- What is your PSA ROI?
I was recently contacted by a reporter from the Chronicle of Higher Education who wanted to interview me and some other folks who had expertise about education and social marketing. I am always nervous with these types of situations because I was trained as a PR man to stay in the background and make my client look good. As long as you did that, you could never get in trouble trying to hog the limelight. However, for the past three decades I have been the spokesman for our company, so I decided to participate.
I will not delve into the details of the interview, because you can read them at: https://shar.es/1uxpmb. These interviews, particularly when there are multiple people being asked to comment, never give one the chance to fully respond.
Looking back on the experience, here is what I would like to have said:
First, not all kids are college material. My dad was a tradesman who earned a good living for the family as a tool and die machinist. Just because a young person does not score well on the SAT, he or she should not give up hope for self improvement. There are excellent trade schools who help young people learn a trade or craft, and maybe that is their passion, so why should we force them to go to college when they want to be an auto mechanic? I actually adopted a “VoTech” school in my home town and started a scholarship in my dad’s name to provide stipends for students to continue their technical education. You can check it out at www.paulenafoundation.com.
Secondly, in my world, kids going off to college should earn some of the money themselves, which avoids more student debt, and the kid will appreciate it more. When you are flipping burgers and digging ditches to earn your way through college, I guarantee you will work harder to stay in school. The kids who have rich parents have no incentive to work hard at all, and that is why so many kids are taking 6 years to get through four year schools.
My third point should be first, in that it is a win-win-win solution. Join the U.S. military before going to college. I know this sounds totally “old school…” that anyone should do anything to help the country instead of helping themselves, but believe it or not, that is the way it used to be. That is what got us through two World Wars as victors; that is what has kept our country strong; and that is what we are lacking today. Would it surprise you to know that in Israel every young man and woman has to serve their country?
Would it surprise you that, according to a story in the New York Times, less than .5 (five tenths of a percent) of the population serve in the armed forces today, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II? Even fewer of the privileged and powerful shoulder arms. In 1975, 70 percent of members of Congress had some military service; today, just 20 percent do, and only a handful of their children are in uniform. There is no way they are going to send their kids off to war when the less fortunate and minorities can shoulder the burden to keep them safe. This is hypocrisy at the highest level!
In my world, young people coming out of high school would have only one vocational choice to make – am I going to spend the next several years of my life in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy or Coast Guard? Once they make that choice, then they can decide what trade they want to learn while they mature, get to meet people from all other cultures, work together as a team and earn money for college while doing it. Is there anything wrong with this picture?
The U.S. government has a very complex and time consuming contract bidding process – both for the government and the bidder – and the reasons for their approach are two-fold. First, it is more equitable to all the firms which have the required capabilities – giving smaller firms the chance to bid against bigger companies. But more importantly, it reduces costs.
Imagine for a second if the government issued a notice to one of its regular contractors – let’s say Boeing – to build the next generation long range bomber. Further, let’s say the government told Boeing they are giving them a no-compete contract. Do you think this approach would result in higher or lower costs? If you answered lower, it is back to contracting 101.
Any time any bidder, vendor, contractor, or service provider can have the luxury of doing work when there is no competition, I can guarantee they will charge more and the reason is obvious – they have no incentive to keep costs down.
Before starting my own firm, I was an executive in an ad agency in Washington, DC managing the national recruiting advertising contract for the U.S. Coast Guard, which we won in open competition. Not only did I issue bid requests to all qualified vendors for every task pertinent to our work with the Coast Guard; we were required by law to do it in the spirit of free and open competition.
In the private sector, too many organizations issue non-competitive contracts, which end up costing them more money and perhaps not getting the most innovative ideas. I will give an example without naming names.
Lowering Your Contract Costs
In the early 1990’s we distributed a national PSA campaign for a large non-profit, and delivered results beyond their expectations, according to our client. Then a new director of communications came on board, who brought in a favored PSA vendor. We, as the incumbent PSA distributor, did not even get a chance to bid on their work; it was simply given to the new firm, because they were friends with the newly appointed communications director.
This arrangement lasted a couple of years, and then there was another change in communications directors. The new communications director, being more astute, sent out bids to three PSA distributors. As it turned out, we won the contract, and the firm that had been providing the PSA services, submitted a bid that was so high, they were not even considered.
Their bid was tossed in the trash so to speak, because their costs were so excessive. How much money was lost by the non-profit, is not known, but the point is, it should not have happened.
Getting More Innovative Ideas
The second advantage to competitive bidding, is the firms which want to do the work will put their best ideas on paper – ideas which cost the non-profit nothing. I cannot tell you how many times I have brought all our best thinkers together to develop creative ideas for a prospective client, yet we were not always the successful bidder. Knowing you are competing against the best in your business class makes you very innovative and creative. Win or lose on the bidder’s side, the non-profit gets these ideas free to use as they see fit.
Achieving Greater Results
The final point is somewhat theoretical, but I think it holds up to rational thought. The company that must keep on proving itself from year to year vis-à-vis its competition will go the extra mile to achieve results. They know that the client is looking over their shoulder for certain results and that there are other firms waiting in the wings to handle their campaign. This, to any smart PSA distributor, provides the incentive to work harder and smarter to achieve results. As for the company that has no competition – knowing the non-profit is going to use them whether they perform or not – where’s their incentive to hustle? Why should they go the extra mile to get you incremental exposure?
What should be included in the competitive bid:
- Ask for proposals – not just a cost a cost estimate, because an estimate only tells you how much, but it does not tell you how the PSA distributor will perform the desired tasks
- Ask the bidders to describe precisely how they distribute, package and evaluate PSAs, the names and experience of the staff members who will work on your campaign.
- What is the bidder’s overall experience with PSAs and have they distributed PSAs similar to yours?
- What will they do to promote your campaign to make it stand out among all the other PSA campaigns the media receives?
- What type of evaluation do they provide; how many different reports; and what type of data is in them? How often is the data refreshed; and what is the process for getting access to the data?
The best news of all is that competitive bidding doesn’t cost anything but the time it takes to develop the RFP (Request for Proposal). Perhaps more important, your boss is going to love the fact that you are trying to get the very best work for your organization at the lowest possible cost.
Goodwill Communications has been in the forefront when it comes to educating our clients and colleagues about best practices pertaining to public service advertising. We maintain the Public Service Advertising Research Center at www.psaresearch.com and provide an extensive list of FAQs at www.psaresearch.com/faq.html. On our corporate website, we provide many articles and case histories regarding the most effective ways to distribute and evaluate PSAS at: www.goodwillcommunications.com and at http://www.goodwillcommunications.com/WhitePapersArticles.aspx.
When we prepare cost estimates for PSA distribution – TV in particular – there is a line item listed as “Promotion,” and then a description of the tactics we use to promote our client campaigns. While it is a fairly modest cost in the total scheme of things, clients typically ask “why do I need to do these things – what does promotion do for my campaign?”
There are at least three reasons for campaign promotion, and especially broadcast TV, which typically accounts for 70-80% of all PSA values and exposure.
● To engage the TV public service director in your issue
● To gain a competitive edge over other non-profits seeking airtime
● It delivers quantifiable results
It is natural to think that the issue we are working on is the most important one in the world. However, if you were a public service director for a major TV station, your issue is just one of the hundreds they deal with in any given month.
The typical profile of a major market TV station is an African-American woman, working in a one person department, who is over worked and under paid.
In addition to dealing with hundreds of requests for PSA airtime, she has other station duties, and is inundated with calls from all over the country begging for airtime. And oh, did I mention that she works in a non-revenue producing department, which means management does not give her nearly the resources she needs to do her job well?
This graphic is a take-off on the famous McGraw-Hill Man in the Chair ad where a gruff old man looks into the camera saying that he never hears from the ad rep who calls on him, but now is asked to buy something from him. This ad is the essence of why media promotion and engagement is important.
There are a variety of ways to inform, educate and engage the media in your issue, but given space limitations, we cannot address them all.
One of the most effective is to do a newsletter which tells the media why your issue is important, and why it deserves their consideration, such as this one shown.
These newsletters can be printed in hard copy and inserted into the packages going to TV stations, or they can be sent via Constant Contact to stations via email. To see samples, go to: http://www.goodwillcommunications.com/Newsletters.aspx.
A Competitive Edge
When I speak at PSA workshops, one of my favorite questions is: how many TV PSAs does the typical broadcast TV station receive? It is interesting to note that almost everyone under estimates the true numbers. As shown in this graph, over half of all TV stations receive from 32-120 PSAs monthly.
What this means is that the non-profit that does a better job of marketing and promoting their issue is going to get their PSAs used. Others who do not understand the competition for scarce time, and do nothing to cut through the clutter, will find their PSAs sitting on the shelf.
Delivering Quantifiable Results
There are two fairly recent trends that have almost revolutionized the number of TV PSAs that get used, and the number of people who see them. The first was when TV stations began to embrace High Definition. As part of that technological shift, local TV stations were given up to six sub-channels which could be used to expand their programming. Many of them use this expanded capacity to air PSAs, and thus we have seen a substantial increase in PSA usage across the board for all our client campaigns.
The second trend is the explosion in national cable networks, which have been created to meet very specific audience interests and lifestyles.
When you channel surf, you see TV programming catering to people who love to cook, history buffs, dog lovers, nature enthusiasts and everything in between. Numerically, the number of national TV networks to which we distribute our client PSAs, has grown from 35 three years ago, to 150 today.
Due to the reach and importance of these networks, three years ago we hired an outreach specialist, named Margaret Kessler, who contacts each of the networks to which our PSAs are distributed, and she sells them on the importance of our various client issues. This takes a very gifted and special person to do this day after day, but Margaret has performed some miracles for our clients, which are detailed in her bio at http://www.goodwillcommunications.com/Team.aspx#G4.
After bringing Margaret on our team, we thought it would be important to isolate network reporting from all other local broadcast TV usage, so we created a separate network TV report for each of our client campaigns.
This makes it very easy for clients to see the impact of our promotional activity, and is a tool Margaret can use to see which networks are actually using PSAs as compared to her call sheet indicating a commitment to use them. For those which had committed, but are not using our PSAs, she calls them back to gently nudge them to fulfill their verbal commitment. It is pick and shovel work, but it pays dividends, as shown by the following table.
The table shows a campaign we distributed for the American Academy of Dermatology where no network outreach was done, and the results from those campaigns where we contacted networks personally. It is a pretty convincing argument to show that promotion pays.
One of the questions we are asked quite frequently is what are the pros and cons of paid ads versus PSAs and if we use paid ads, how will it affect our PSA program?
First, from an effectiveness viewpoint, no media savvy person could argue for PSAs if they had the resources to execute a paid campaign. Paid advertising allows the sponsor to control all aspects of the media buy, right down to the times when their primary audience is exposed to the message, as well as the fact that the reach, frequency of the buy, and all other parameters are controlled.
There was a time when trying to purchase paid airtime/space and run a PSA campaign at the same time in any medium and for any length of time would have been the kiss of death for the PSA component. However, that is no longer the case.
Looking at the overall PSA landscape, there is perhaps no such thing as “pure” PSAs. The ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) purchases paid ads, and asks the media to give matching PSA placements for each paid ad.
There is something called the Non-Commercial Sustaining Agreement, which involves airing what are essentially “PSA’s,” but money is paid to the state broadcast association. The advantage to this arrangement is better placement than what one would get via conventional PSAs. Most of the military services employ both paid and PSAs, at no detriment to their PSA program, and we know that since we have worked with them all.
And there are arrangements such as corporate sponsorships, which can blur the line on paid-vs-PSAs as well. Some of these models involve a paid sponsor which buys the airtime for the non-profit, and sometimes they are identified in the PSA message, and sometimes not.
Some media outlets which don’t want to jeopardize their chances at getting income, have been willing to overlook this apparent conflict, and will give you 2, 3, or perhaps four PSAs for every paid spot. Conversely, if you are buying time, some networks and non-profits you may want to work with will not give you PSA airtime. For example, to work with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, the non-profit has to certify that they have not, or are not, buying media.
Largely it is a matter of how much nuance is exercised in the media buy. Paying for a very limited time, or on a selected basis, is preferable to a very aggressive, in your face national campaign. For example, one of our clients buys time in the Washington, DC market, but is distributing the same spots as PSAs in all other markets. To avoid conflict between the two, we block out Washington, DC from our PSA distribution plan.
In the final analysis, any non-profit considering a paid campaign has to examine the cost and whether they have the resources to buy media for the longer term, which is necessary to be successful. Buying a few spots here and there one time will probably do more damage than good, because it will probably not achieve the marketing goals, and will almost certainly poison the well for PSAs.
Also, you have to look at the situation on a case by case basis. As a general rule, buying media time in one medium, will not affect PSA support in another medium.
Unless the paid spots or print ads are clearly labeled as such, it is difficult for anyone to determine whether they are paid or PSAs. On the other hand, local media sales representative have a history of sharing information on who is spending money in their market, so it may be difficult to keep your paid placements a secret.
The problem that can occur is that one or two stations in the market could be your biggest PSA supporters, but perhaps they are not the market leader in terms of audience. So, if you buy time on the market leader, and the PSA station supporters do not get part of the media buy, what chance do you think you will have in getting future PSAs on that station? Zero is a good answer.
Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that our society is getting less personal in terms of human contact? You can go to a restaurant or bar and see everyone staring into their cell phones even when they are supposed to be interacting with their friends. We shoot off dozens of emails and text messages so we don’t have to pick up the phone and call someone. We send stuff through the mail to important people hoping they will take the time to read it.
When distributing our client public service advertising materials to the media, we made the same mistakes for years, believing that we could not get through to the decision-makers. Then we tried a little experiment.
We hired a person who actually enjoys picking up the phone and talking to strangers. We call her “Marvelous Margaret,” because what a difference she has made for our client campaign values.
Margaret came from a media background herself, so she understands the deadline pressures that the media work under, and how much they do not want to get a call from her. However, she is one of those rare individuals who just has a way of getting in, where others fear to tread.
We first used Margaret to call broadcast and cable networks for a TV PSA campaign we handled for Volunteers of America, featuring Joan and Melissa Rivers. The topic was the importance of beginning a dialogue about aging among family members. To date, 19 networks have used this PSA generating over $21.3 million in value.
The next thing we did was to create a separate network report that is posted to client portals we create for each of our clients so they can actually see the network values, separate from all other exposure.
Soon after the VOA campaign noted above, we launched another campaign pertaining to the importance of exercise for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Once again, Margaret’s efforts helped to generate just over $14 million in network value for AAOS.
Following these successes, we distributed a campaign on local youth volunteerism for Volunteers of America, which has become the most successful PSA campaign we have ever distributed. This time Margaret’s magic has resulted in usage on 65 national networks and a total value of $66.2 million in ad value, two thirds of all their exposure.
When we first saw these results, we began thinking of other ways that we could use this gifted outreach specialist to help our clients get more value from their campaigns, perhaps focusing on other media.
We picked the hardest sell to test our theory – using Margaret to try to get some placements in the print media – large magazines and newspapers. We have all been reading about how the print media is slowly eroding away or going online. Add to that the fact that several different people make decisions about PSA usage which can mean dozens of calls to try to find the right person to speak with.
But if print is dead, why are the magazine racks at newsstands jammed with new printed titles? And why has the Wall Street Journal become the nation’s most widely read newspaper, reaching 1.3 million people every day?
Since we had so much success in working with Margaret on TV network outreach, we tried a little experiment. We decided to have her contact some of the largest magazines and the Wall Street Journal to pitch a couple of our client print PSAs, the hardest thing to do in our business.
Results to date: we have gotten 26 four-color quarter page ads in the Wall Street Journal, as well as full page PSAs in Forbes, and Endless Vacation magazines for one client, and 378 four-color print PSAs in the Journal for another client, including quarter, half and even full page print PSAs. The combined value of this exposure is $11.3 million and the combined circulation of the PSAs was 76 million readers.
So, what are the lessons learned. First, human contact still works. Hearing a warm, empathetic voice on the other end of the line who is trying to improve the human condition is still a viable outreach tactic.
Secondly, no one should give up on print media yet. Maybe the old model for print will be replaced by some other model, but there are still millions of people in America who love to wake up in the morning and reach out for their old reliable newspaper. While we do not claim to be miracle workers, we found someone who is. Why not let us put her talents to work for your next campaign?
Our role as a PSA distributor begins when the master materials are delivered to us. Typically, we have nothing to do with the creative process, but if there is one thing we understand, it is PSA usage practices, as that is our stock in trade.
With that in mind, there are a number of things that producers should think about in the creative process that could have an immense impact on ultimate media usage and exposure. Following are things to think about as you begin the creative process:
- Adopt a team approach. When producing your PSA, adopt a team approach by bringing all the people who will be involved in the campaign to the table in the planning stage. This might include the person who commissioned the campaign, the account team, if being done by an advertising agency, the producer, director and copywriters. This doesn’t mean writing copy by committee, which normally results in disaster. It means that those who will be involved in various executional aspects of the campaign should all understand the objectives, target audiences, timing, and call-to-action for the campaign BEFORE you start creating the message.
- Produce PSA materials for a broad media mix. Each medium has different strengths and weaknesses in terms of reaching your audience and stakeholders. Accordingly, you should adapt a multi-media approach, which includes TV, (broadcast and cable; national and local), radio, print and out-of-home. The latter category typically includes airport dioramas, transit and mall posters. How you develop your message for each of these media must be different, because the delivery platform for each is different. This is not to suggest that a TV campaign by itself will not be successful, but if budget permits, you should think of the larger media world.
- Keep your message simple. You have sixty seconds or less to deliver your message, and remember the audience will be doing other things when they see or hear your PSA. What many people think is the most famous PSA ever conceived – the Fried Egg TV spot produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America – used 12 words, an egg and a frying pan as their creative concept. However, once you saw it, you never forgot it.
- Provide message flexibility. PSA availability is a function of unsold media time and space – it is completely random in nature. Accordingly, you should offer the media maximum flexibility in terms of formats, sizes and lengths. Think of it this way…you have spent tens of thousands of dollars planning, writing and shooting the PSA so doesn’t it make to spend a few thousand more in the editing suite to create a mix of spot lengths? Or think of it this way…if you offer the media a single spot length and some other availability pops up, which will happen, you lose. You have left money on the table.
- Embrace diversity. If the recent presidential election taught us one thing, it is that the complexity of our country has drastically changed. Old white people are no longer in control and everyone producing PSAs had better recognize that fact. Produce PSAs to reach a variety of audiences. Or, if your budget does not permit that, at least show diversity in the way you package your campaign by using photos of different ethnicities and gender. In many cases, the person who decides if your PSA gets on the air will be a minority woman.
- Do your homework. Before you type the very first word of copy…before you even think of a creative concept, read everything you can about the type of messages the media uses. Learn what you can about the media mindset – the things the media considers when making the decision to use a particular PSA or not. Think about localizing your PSA in some way and have a clear understanding of the types of formats the media want. We have made it somewhat easier for you via our Frequently Asked Questions on our PSA Research Center at http://www.psaresearch.com/faq.html. Here you can learn about what types of materials the media will use, including optimum spot lengths, and things to avoid in your PSA creative development.
- Avoid controversy. The last thing any media organization wants to do is create controversy over a PSA they used. In fact, their main objective is to build greater audience share, not to turn away viewers, listeners and readers. If you represent issues such as gun control, abortion, or fringe religious issues, you may want to consider another way to disseminate your message, because it is unlikely the media is going to use it as a PSA.
- Recognize and capitalize on media strengths. The reason TV can be such a powerful medium is it offers full motion, sound and color, with the best PSAs using all three to maximum advantage. Talking heads rarely make good TV PSAs unless the person delivering the message is extremely compelling. For radio, you have to create theater of the mind via interesting voice-over copy and dramatic sound effects. For print, and to a greater extent out-of-home, you must use very brief and powerful copy and graphics.
- Avoid any type of commercialization, which includes audio or visual references to any profit-seeking organization, such as the use of logos, or corporate spokespersons who are identified in their corporate role. This tip applies more to TV and radio as they are regulated by the FCC. With cable TV, print and out of home you have more flexibility to have references or endorsements by profit-seeking entities.
- Don’t compete against yourself. Less is more, regarding the number of different PSAs that you include in your package. There is only so much time available and if you send stations 12 different PSAs, just because you produced them, most of them are going in the wastebasket. Typically the public service director will cherry pick the spots in your package, using one or two and the rest will never see the light of day. Think about sending the others at another time and possibly double your exposure.
Oh yes, and if you don’t read these tips and then your campaign doesn’t do well, please, please don’t shoot the messenger, because we told you what to do.