Data-Backed Advice for PSAs in 2021

As many marketers are aware, 2020 heavily impacted many sectors, including nonprofits. Public service announcements help spread the message for many causes, so the past year, more than ever, seemed to be the best time to utilize this special channel. But with the media overwhelmed with COVID-19 news, rightly so, as a result, many organizations put a halt to their plans. 

Fortunately, most nonprofit marketers are being strategic when launching new efforts such as releasing PSAs, despite COVID-19. The good news is there is plenty of data available to help you plan your marketing strategy for the future especially as things morph to a new normal.

I’ve been conducting an annual PSA survey to PSA Directors at TV and radio stations across the country for ten years! It’s quite a milestone because the media industry has changed so much over the past decade. With COVID-19, I surveyed PSA contacts twice last year, to see how marketers could react to rapidly changing needs. Here are the topline results:

Expect Half as Much PSA Inventory When Nearing a Presidential Election

As you create your three or five-year strategic plan, you should consider an expected decrease in PSA inventory. The data shows that many stations expected less of it in the months leading up to the 2020 election.  

According to the annual survey conducted in April 2020, 43% stated they predicted they would have less inventory compared to the 45% of PSA directors during the 2016 election cycle. After the 2020 Presidential election in November, the survey found that 50% of stations expected half as much PSA inventory. (So, let’s say their “gut” feeling was consistent from year to year.) Then, after all that was said and done, 40% reported they had less than expected. 

Inventory Often Fluctuates

Usually, PSA inventory will remain consistent with the retail calendar and significant events like elections. However, it can fluctuate with the economy during a regular year. As the economy improves this year, there will be less inventory.  

Over the past year, PSA Directors felt it was a good time for PSAs. 23% of respondents reported they had more inventory based on COVID-19 messages. Around 50% said theirs stayed the same. 38% of stations had to pause other PSAs to focus on the pandemic. While a PSA can still air, airings will be different from month to month. 

Pivot With Your PSA Strategy Around COVID-19

Since they saw an increase in inventory, many stations have placed other PSAs on hold to focus on COVID-19 messaging. As the country gears toward vaccination and a return to normalcy, expect pandemic PSAs to continue to have more of a priority.  

But do not feel discouraged if you experience a disruption, though. If your PSA has been put on hold, you are not alone. As our economy and lives ease back into normalcy, the demand for non-COVID messages will rise.

Create a Mini-Marketing Plan

When creating a plan to release and promote your PSA, it is crucial to choose the right time of the year. Typically, people will release during a period when their message or need is the greatest. You also will want to pick a date when stations are most likely to air it. Most airtime generally occurs in December, November/June, July, September/October, and May.  Try to make the PSA relevant to themes of the day, month, or year to obtain airtime.

Once you have the desired air date, try to send the PSA to the station anywhere from a week to a month ahead of time. 

Do Not Delay Your PSA Efforts

72% of PSA Directors predict the amount of PSA inventory space will remain the same in 2021. And most likely because of the pandemic, stations received fewer PSAs in 2020. On average, they got 14 requests every week.

Roughly half of the surveyed stations ran between 1 and 20 PSAs a week. So the good news is that they will have room for more. Do not hesitate to launch a PSA campaign effort this year!

PSAs Have a Shorter Shelf-Life Today

Nonprofit marketers should prefer evergreen campaigns, first and foremost, because of the cost and effort of getting a campaign up and running and the fact that the message doesn’t have an expiration date. And generally, evergreen messages have a higher chance of receiving more airtime. This helps combat the downtrend in the length of time PSA Directors will keep a PSA on the air. 

If you can, new creative should be distributed often. About 70% of respondents desire new material every month to three months. 43% want new creative from a nonprofit every quarter. If you can’t keep your creative fresh, at least freshen your message about why your PSA needs continued airtime.

Competition in the Charity World

Charities are no stranger to experiencing competition when it comes to PSA campaign efforts. During an average year, PSA Directors get 56 PSAs per month. Yet, they run only 25% of those requests. With so many requests, one may wonder how they choose. 

They often put PSAs through a similar filter a news reporter uses to determine what story receives coverage. PSA Directors look to see if it is relevant to the current times. Most stations have no favorite themes, but some prefer if a PSA can be tied to issues in their community.

Make Sure Your PSA Makes Your Cause Stand Out

It is necessary that your message and packaging stand out above the rest. As mentioned before, some PSA Directors have areas of interest. They want to provide PSAs that are interesting to viewers. For example, many people were more attentive to healthcare messages in 2020. 

70% reported that PSAs with timely topics make it on air. Regardless of the message, it has to be relevant to them. Around 80% of respondents will pick a PSA that appeals the best to their audience. 

It’s All About the Pitch

Along with messaging and packaging of a PSA message, a PSA pitch can make or break the chance to secure airtime. Stations look for three main factors when deciding on which messages to show. As already covered, one of them is if it appeals to their local audience. Another factor is if the PSA relates to recent news. And last, they also take into consideration the creative quality of the spot. 

The Necessity of a Local Angle and Timely Message

It cannot be stressed enough how important a local angle and timely message is this year. These factors increased by as much as 15% before and after COVID-19. Nevertheless, you should try not to pitch a PSA if there are multiple headlines covering a significant news item—news stations will be distracted and shift priorities towards that issue.

Besides the main three factors, other qualities PSA Directors look for a variety of lengths. The most popular spot lengths are 15, 30, and 60 seconds. 

Download the 2021 report today

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