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PSA CAMPAIGN PREPARATION – A PRODUCER’S GUIDE

December 5, 2012

Our role as a PSA distributor begins when the master materials are delivered to us.  Typically, we have BABY WITH CLAPBOARDnothing 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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