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The Value of Human Contact

February 27, 2013

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?



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   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.

Need for Evaluation Standards

August 4, 2011

We were recently approached by a prospective client who had been using one of the largest organizations in the country which distributes PSAs (public service advertising) campaigns. When they told us the dollar value that the other organization had supposedly generated, I was astounded. It was ten times more than the most successful campaign we had ever distributed. The prospective client was quite concerned because their board had bought into this astronomical value and to use another distributor which may not be able to match previous results would have been a significant problem.

This background establishes the need for standard standards to measure the value of public service advertising. No one knows how many organizations use PSAs as a way to communicate with their stakeholders, but it is a large number. Nearly every federal agency uses them along with states, public interest groups, associations, and non-profits, so the aggregate amount being spent on these campaigns is huge. Thus, having objective methods of measurement is key to continued credibility for the entire field of public service advertising.

For example, when we questioned one distributor’s methodology, we were told that their advertising equivalency values came from the National Association of Broadcasters. Being quite familiar with NAB, it sounded very suspicious so I called them to see if they indeed provided such data. “We do not have that kind of data and if we did, we would not give it to external parties,” the staff person at NAB told me. So much for objective data. And it is this data that distributors use to impress their clients with the success of any given campaign. Perhaps more importantly, it makes it very difficult to compare results from one distributor to another in an objective manner.

At our firm, we post our methodology statement on each client’s reporting portal, spelling out in specific detail how we calculate values, where the data comes from and what it means. We believe that the time has come for all distributors to provide similar methodology statements for the benefit of their clients as well as a way to determine how one campaign has performed against others. Being even more bold, perhaps the time has come for all companies which distribute public service materials to the media to form some type of professional organization where we could share common interests and lobby the media to provide more public service time and space for public benefit.


July 15, 2011

 I recently attended a great program for CEOs of veteran-owned companies called the Veterans Institute for Procurement, funded by the Montgomery County (MD) Chamber of Commerce Foundation.  It was an intense three-day class and before getting started, each of the 30 or so students was asked to tell the rest of the class some brief personal information. After introducing myself, I said a few words about a subject that every American should care about. Each day in our country an average 18 veterans take their own lives. After I told this to my fellow students, you could see that this fact hit these people particularly hard, because we all had served our country. Many of the people in the classroom knew the feeling of bullets whizzing by their heads, perhaps had parachuted into enemy territory, or had suffered combat wounds.

My company recently worked with the VA in distributing a public service announcement to promote a suicide prevention hotline to address the problem.  However, everone knows the problem is surely not going to be solved by public education alone.  (Click on the above link to see the video and news release).

Here is another interesting statistic that will alarm a lot of people. According to Volunteers of America, which helps homeless people, on any given night 75,609 veterans are homeless, and twice as many experience homelessness during a year.  Right now, the number of homeless Vietnam era veterans is greater than the number of service persons who died during that war.

Already, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are appearing in the homeless population, and since many of them experienced urban warfare – the most dangerous of all combat – they are increasingly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And the story gets worse. According to the U.S. Department of Labor,  the rate of unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in January,2011 was 15.2%.  “This should be a wakeup call for America,” said Paul Rieckoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We have a definite employment problem and it is getting worse.”

The VA and other organizations are trying to do something about this growing problem, that eventually will have an adverse effect on recruiting and retention, to say nothing about how it affects families. But the sad reality is that with government cutbacks, there is not enough money available for government to solve the problem.

While many companies in the private sector do offer some assistance, helping veterans is typically not the primary mission of companies, and so the vets get lost in the shuffle.  With no one to talk to about their problems, difficulty in getting a job, which contributes to homelessness, it is not hard to figure out why the suicide rate is rising. The question becomes: what can we do to help?

America is an amazingly resilient country when we all pull together, and if ever there was a time or reason for us to do that to help our vets, it is now. Like many social problems, they will not be solved by government, companies, foundations or any other entities, all of which are comprised by we the people.  Following is a quick list of things we can do.

What We Can Do

 – Show support for our vets overseas already via either organizations such as USO, the American Legion or the many organizations that send “care packages” to our troops overseas. A Google search will bring up a long list of them. The more support our troops get while they are deployed, the less alienated they will feel when they come home.

– Help the families of veterans in your community. If you live near a family with a deployed vet, drop in on them and see if they need help. If the vet knows his family is taken care of, then it will boost his or her morale.

– Volunteer – there are opportunities ranging from the USO lounges at airports, to packing boxes to be sent to vets serving overseas, or perhaps become a suicide prevention counselor.

– Spread the word.  Send a link to this blog to your friends, neighbors and colleagues, particularly if they are veterans or have sons and daughters serving our armed forces.

– Most importantly – if you know a vet, talk to them. Find out if they are having problems adjusting. Buy them a meal. Take them to the local VA hospital to get help. Show them some love and appreciation for their support.

I was in London about a year ago and I saw all these people wearing a red poppy flower in their lapel, or perhaps pinned to their blouses, and they were everywhere. Being inquisitive, I asked a cabby (also sporting a red poppy) what these were for. “They are to support Remembrance Day,” he said, “which is our way of remembering the members of our armed forces who have died on duty since WWI.”

Unfortunately, for too many Americans, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day are just another holiday to take the kids to the beach. England well knows how to appreciate their veterans and we should learn from them.

Maybe if we would all do a little more to help our veterans and show appreciation for their service, more of them would enjoy their senior years instead of taking their own lives, or spending their nights out on the cold, mean streets.

While we want to do more, to see one of our projects to show our appreciation for our armed forces, go to

Extending Your Reach Via Fusion Marketing

June 15, 2011

It is very rare that a non-profit – whether it is a private sector organization or a government agency – is working on an issue with total exclusivity.  In other words, typically there will be several organizations working on any given issue, but perhaps approaching it from different angles.  Unfotunately too often there is duplication of effort which wastes both time and money.  Often by joining forces, organizations with a similar mission can cross-pollinate to create greater synergy.  

An example, is a collaborative effort between the American Savings Education Council, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Savings Bonds program.  Each of them contributed funds to distribute a PSA on the importance of saving for retirement, because that was a message that all three of them had been disseminating separately.  The TV PSA tags had the above logo on them with website addresses for each.  Evaluation reports showed what each got from the collaborative effort.

 In another example, when Hillary Clinton  was the First Lady, she was the spokesperson for a campaign on colo-rectcal cancer.  Twenty-three separate organizations formed a “roundtable” to disseminate information on the issue to the media and their respective stakeholders. Each of them was mentioned in PSA packaging materials and on a special website for the campaign.

 In still another example, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons collaborated with the Auto Alliance on a campaign to prevent distracted driving.

 You can take almost any issue – aging, veterans’ programs, breast cancer – and you will find several, if not a dozen organizations, working on the issue.  Often it makes sense to pool human, financial and marketing resources to generate a bigger impact than working alone, and each organization brings different skill sets or stakeholders to the table.

It doesn’t cost a lot but you get a lot out of the strategic alliance – otherwise known as fusion marketing.

The Case for Advertising Equivalency

October 3, 2010

Ad value equivalency is conceptually wrong,” PR expert says.

 That is a direct quote by David Rockland, partner and CEO of Ketchum Pleon Change and Global Research, and he went on to say that “If you can’t recognize it as a bad idea, then you probably shouldn’t be in PR.”

 It could be a matter of semantics, because the public service advertising and PR worlds are quite different in the way exposure occurs. It is important to address this issue, however, because the public service advertising profession has used advertising equivalency for more than 3 decades as a way to measure the value of a campaign. 

To start the discussion, let’s review Mr. Rockland’s  statement more carefully and try to find out what he and his colleagues at the Institute for Public Relations define as a better way to measure campaign impact.  At the recent European Summit on Measurement held in Barcelona, leaders from 30 countries met to discuss global standards and practices to evaluate public relations programs.

 One of those delegates, Andre Manning, global head of external communications at Royal Philips Electronics, said that his firm has “reworked its PR approach to ‘outcome communications,’ and totally abandoned ad value equivalency.”  My response to this is, what leads these PR experts to think that anyone uses advertising equivalency value (AEV) exclusively as a measurment of success?

Everyone we know who engages in public relations and/or public service advertising programs uses advertising equivalency as just one of the important metrics of measuring campaign outcome.  But why use it at all is the question that is being raised.   Several reasons.

 First, everyone can do the math.  They know if they spent X dollars to create and distribute a campaign, and got back Y in ad equivalency value,  then they know their ROI.

 Secondly, AEV inherently reflects many different aspects of media values in the way it is calculated.  For example, in calculating the AEV for broadcast TV exposure, the size of the market, (as defined by population), the prominence of the station within the market, the time of day the exposure occurred, the length, duration and frequency of the message are all reflected by the AEV.    

 As the first firm to develop PSA evaluation software back in 1983, we compiled reports showing details of media exposure and ad equivalency. We also demonstrated the impact this exposure had on our mission – recruiting young people into the U.S. Coast Guard.  We used graphs to show a direct correlation between the amount of PSA exposure we were getting (the same would be true of PR editorial exposure) and the number of 800 phone leads coming into our call center.  Prior to the Internet, other methods used to measure outcome were literature requests and the number of volunteers recruited, if that was the campaign goal.

We are not a PR firm and the types of campaigns we distribute to the media are very different from the standard public relations effort designed to generate earned media.  On the other hand, we do not think it is wise to completely discard an evaluation metric that is based on solid media logic and we probably could all agree that it should only be one method for determining the success or outcome for any given public education campaign.

PSA Production – Five Tips For Producing Effective Public Service Announcements

July 19, 2010

Five Tips on PSA Production

1.              Where do we start with PSA production? 

Before embarking on PSA production for any campaign, it is critical to understand the full context of the message, the audience, the existing ‘brand’, and any collateral materials that will be distributed in conjunction with the public service announcement. We do not employ any kind of magic ‘template’ for a PSA, as every message is unique, and needs to be custom tailored to best reach its audience. PSA production techniques may range widely based on who the audience is and writing style, shooting and editing should ultimately be dictated based on what is known about the target audience and any secondary audiences. All nuances of the campaign should be considered – what is the end call to action? What do people already think or know about the subject matter? What are some of the common hot buttons around the issue? What are some of the common objections to the issue/cause? What is the projected life span of the PSA? All of these answers, along with a host of additional questions and answers will best prepare you to create a campaign that most effectively leverages your messaging platform, and speaks directly to your audience. 

2.              How much will the public service announcement cost? 

Cost-affecting factors include PSA production parameters such as: how many shooting days? Shooting on film vs. video? How large a crew? Specialty equipment needed like cranes, Steadicams, dollys, etc? Location shooting or studio shooting? Customized props or sets? Union or non-union actors? What types of talent? Are there music and talent usage rights? Library music or original composition? How elaborate a graphics / animation package?, etc. We pride ourselves on our ability to create public service announcement campaigns based around client dictated budgets whether they be small, medium or large and on the fact that we can execute effective campaigns based on either very established brands, or beginning from scratch.

3.              Where/When will the public service announcement air?

It is critical to manage expectations with regards to public service announcement airings. Unlike paid commercial advertising, the airing of a PSA is entirely at the discretion of local station PSA directors. These people are literally inundated with PSA products and pitches from various groups trying to get their messages out. Depending on the timeliness of the issue, the personal sensibilities of the PSA directors, the relevance of the message to the stations’ specific demographic and a host of other intangibles, there is never any guarantee that a public service announcement will see the airwaves. Subsequently, it is important to strategize your PSA marketing campaign to best utilize the information on hand to maximize station airings.

4.              How long should our public service announcement be? 

Typically, a PSA is versioned as both a:30 and a:60 second spot. This increases likelihood of airings since stations can have some flexibility in filling in either time slot. Often:10’s and / or:15’s are created as well. 

5.              What can we expect from the PSA production process? 

Our ‘typical’ process would unfold as follows: 

– Discovery / Q&A – Concept Development (we would propose several generally sketched out ideas for client approval) 

– Final Approach (based on feedback from Concept Development stage, we would fully flesh out a particular concept) 

– Pre-production (planning, storyboards (when appropriate), schedule development and hiring of key individuals) 

– Execution (PSA production, post-production and final formatting) 

– Delivery to Distributor (we work closely with the distributor to ensure delivery of high quality formats and appropriate collateral such as final script, screen grabs for packaging, etc.)

Author: Dave Braun