Quote about public service announcements

Let’s talk Public Service Announcements (PSAs)

As marketers, we are always looking to make decisions based on data; tweak campaign keywords based on the CTR, change messaging with a low conversion rate, rework a media plan based on low awareness results. But, when you’re working at a nonprofit, you release a public service announcement (PSA) and realize there is a lot of data, but you’re not sure what it all means. How do you use PSA data to make better marketing decisions?

PSAs afford you the ability to get your message to the masses, but you have no control behind the dates, times, and places PSAs run. It feels like you’re at the mercy of the data. The good news is that there are several experts in the field (besides myself) that can help you strategize when to release a PSA, when to ask for airtime, and how to use your resources wisely. Isn’t that what we do at nonprofits every day, anyway?

Be strategic about your launch dates

I’ve conducted a survey of PSA Directors around the country for ten years now. You can download the 2019 report here. There are a lot of highlights, but one of the hottest tips I can give is to send out your PSA at the beginning of the year.

There are times of the year when there is consistently more space for PSAs – January/February and July/August. Ten years of data tell me that, but PSA Directors confirm it’s true, too. Anticipate these two PSA “seasons” and get your PSA in the hands of the media at the ripest time.

Advice: Let’s say you launch your PSA in April—this doesn’t mean that it won’t get on air; it just might take longer to get rolling.

Data tip: Test different launch dates from campaign to campaign and see what works best. But keep in mind that your results have other factors mixed in too, such as available inventory and station priorities, so use airings as one valuable piece of input for picking your next launch date.

PSAs air when people can see them

I’ve worked with the team at c360m for well over a decade, and they have proven themselves to be the ultimate data geeks. They like clean and accurate data. Last year, their analysis of all their current TV and radio airings confirmed that the majority of PSA airings occurred during waking hours. What the heck is a waking hour? Well, it’s when people are not sleeping and able to consume media. I usually count waking hours from 5 am to 1 am, so I count the early risers and the night owls who watch the late show. This nifty infographic they created breaks down the data.

Advice: Don’t let the myth that PSAs only air when people are asleep deter you from launching a PSA campaign.

Data tip: Check your dayparts every month. Use the averages that c360m outlines as a benchmark, but don’t be afraid if yours vary +/- 10%. Every campaign is different.

There is competition for PSA space, so find a way to elevate your message

I love getting my hands on data that represents results from a larger group because it provides helpful benchmarks. TVAccess is another partner I’ve worked with for years, and their Year in Review report offers a lot of insight.

Two key pieces of data are helpful here: the total number of PSA campaigns tracked by Nielsen per month and a map that displays airings per state. First, after a decade of increasing PSA competition, peaking in 2013, the number of campaigns airing each month has decreased to levels not seen in more than a decade. And with the number of airings afforded to PSAs each year staying relatively the same, that means inventory is available for the taking! Second, TVAccess offers an in-depth analysis of the number of airings in every market and state. It shows that top airers are scattered around the country (good for awareness building) and in top markets.

Advice: Focus your PSA efforts where it will make a difference for your mission. What markets do you offer the majority of your programs and services? Where your donors concentrated? Where are stakeholders and decision-makers located?

Data tip: Once you’ve decided where you should focus your efforts, watch the airings data in those markets, but let it take time. It can take nine months to get on the air in a top market.

Stretch your marketing dollars and recycle an existing PSA

Goodwill Communications, a PSA expert and industry veteran, has a mountain of information on their site. I agree whole-heartedly with their advice about “recycling PSAs” (or re-distributing) as my experience has been the same: “Many of our clients have saved tens of thousands of dollars in production money by recycling an existing PSA campaign or an individual component, such as a TV PSA. Some of our nonprofit clients have recycled a TV PSA three different times.” And while the results are never as good as the first year after launch, they are still quite good!

Advice: Sending out an existing PSA multiple years in a row is a good option for nonprofits with limited budgets. For example, one year you produce a PSA and the next year that budget is used for a website redesign.

Data tip: Expect to get 50-7% of the number of airings of the first or previous distribution.

PSA inventory around election time will be slim but don’t give up

The e-newsletter “In the Box” from Boom Broadcast is a helpful tool for any PR professional – it outlines the content that will be highlighted on the morning news and daytime shows along with other helpful calendar notes like when sweeps begin. It gives you a head’s up so you can easily newsjack.

Their advice on PSAs and election advertising offers great perspective. While published in 2014, I’ve found this to be true for the past four presidential elections I’ve worked through: “Political ad buying has become more targeted with less blanket media buys. This shift in ad buying opens up blocks of ad time for PSA airings.” While I’ve seen airings trickle in as election day approaches, it quickly bounces back.

Advice: Timing your PSA launch and requests for air is key to be successful during election years. Avoid October 1 through Election Day.

Data tip: Expect a short lull in airings, so give yourself a break and don’t check your data until mid-November!

Stay tuned to the blog for more about PSAs. I’m never at a loss for advice to offer and hope that all nonprofits can benefit from this amazing offer from the media to spread the word about your mission.