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Television Public Service Announcements

Recession, Digital Media Increase Openings for PSAs

An effective PSA (Public Service Announcements) requires careful planning, a memorable message and sometimes high development costs. But air time is free and production help is often available.

With digital media luring many advertisers away from television and the recession making it even tougher to sell air time, many television and radio stations have more slots available to run public service announcements.

“If there ever was a time for non-profits and the government to release PSA materials, this is it,” Eva Kasten, founder and president of Noral Group International Inc., said in a company news release. Noral is a research-based public service advertising and social marketing firm.

Television Community Service Directors

Kasten based her statement on the results of Noral’s second National Media Survey of Television Community Service Directors. The survey indicated that more than 80% of the directors expected their stations to have more or at least as much PSA time in the future.

The survey also indicated that the community service directors were most receptive to PSAs focusing on education, kids and the conservation of energy and the environment.

Public service announcements once focused primarily on health and safety, but the Ad Council now lists 48 issues among its PSAs.

Smokey the Bear Helps Prevent Wildfires

The longest running Ad Council campaign is Smokey the Bear saying “only you can prevent forest fires.” It started in 1944 and was still running in 2009.but was changing with the times. The term “forest fires” has been changed to “wildfires” and Smokey is evolving into a real person outfitted as a bear with an extended message.

The Ad Council is probably responsible for more public service announcements than any other organization. It studies the need for certain issues, recruits agencies to develop spots and then places them in media across the nation.

The Council launched its PSA program in 1942 with spots for selling savings bonds, military secrecy (“A slip of the lip will sink a ship”) and recruitment of women for wartime jobs (Rosie the Riveter).

Ad Council Classic PSAs

Since then the council has promoted classic spots for:

  • Polio inoculation (“Fight Polio”)
  • Earth Day and other anti-pollution efforts (“Keep America beautiful”)
  • The Peace Corps (“The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.”)
  • The United Negro College Fund (“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”)
  • Crime Prevention and McGruff the Crime Dog (“Take a bite out of crime.”)
  • Safety Belt Education (featuring the Crash Test Dummies)’
  • Aids prevention (“Help stop AIDS. Use a condom.”)

The Ad Council ads have served as inspiration and models for many locally developed PSAs. The Council invites issues for its public service announcements, but has rigid parameters for those spots. The soliciting organization must be a non-profit or government agency. It and its cause must be national in scope.

Sources for Local PSAs

One agency specializing in PSAs estimates it can provide a complete package for national exposure, including creative, production, nationwide distribution and reporting, for about $48,000.

But there is often creative and production help available for local and regional organizations also. Some of the sources:

  • Ad agencies seeking community service work
  • Marketing, public relations, advertising and communications students taking on the issue as a class project
  • Benefactors with a special interest in a particular cause
  • Local chapters of professional associations such as The Public Relations Society of America, the American and Canadian marketing associations, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the American Advertising Federation.

Each of those has standards similar to those required by the Ad Council, minus the national requirement.

When the production costs can be controlled, the outlook for government and non-profit PSAs appears brighter than it has been in a while.