A public service announcement (PSA) is a brief message aired on radio or television that provides information to the public. The FCC requires that in order to receive or renew a broadcast license, television and radio stations must donate a certain amount of airtime “for which no charge is made,” usually to nonprofit organizations and other community groups. PSAs can air at any time period during which a station broadcasts to the public. Despite FCC regulations, many broadcast media are requesting that organizations pay for what have traditionally been free public service announcements.
A PSA’s format may vary, depending upon the submission guidelines of different radio or television stations. You can contact the public service director (also called “community affairs director”) or visit a station’s Web site to determine:
- General submission requirements.
- To whom the PSA should be submitted (it is helpful to get a specific name, title, and mail or e-mail address).
- Preferred length in words or amount of time.
- Suggested format (see below).
- The station’s preferences and guidelines related to written copy or providing an audiotape or videotape (if stations allow for “external talent” to tape the PSA, consider a victim/survivor or community leader—such as the mayor or district attorney—to read the PSA).
- When a station requires the PSA copy (the advance time needed prior to its actual airing).
- When to expect the PSA to air once the station receives it.
In general, PSAs should be submitted at least 2 weeks prior to when you want it to air, and clarify when you want it to begin and end on air.
PSAs are usually written in 15-, 30-, or 60-second formats (the 1-minute format can also be used as a “broadcast actuality,” which features the spot being delivered on the radio or television by a person from the organization or entity sponsoring its content). Brevity is very important, in general:
- A 15-second PSA has no more than 40 words.
- A 30-second PSA has no more than 80 words.
- A 60-second PSA or actuality has no more than 150 words.
The format below is generally acceptable to most broadcast stations:
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
CONTACT: (Name, area code/telephone number, and e-mail address of primary contact person and organization)
CONTENT OF ANNOUNCEMENT (IT IS CUSTOMARY TO TYPE THE PSA DOUBLE-SPACED AND IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS). ALWAYS END WITH: “FOR MORE INFORMATION, CALL (TELEPHONE NUMBER) OR VISIT (WEB SITE URL).
– END –
It helps to assemble a “PSA team” to plan, develop, and deliver the PSA to—
- Research the PSA submission requirements of different television and radio stations, and compile a simple database with information.
- Seek consensus on the most important message and information for the PSA.
- Write, edit, and rewrite to fit the message with the time limits.
- Read the PSA out loud to each other—several times—to make sure the message is clear, delivered succinctly, and contains all relevant information.
Broadcast stations receive many requests to air PSAs and have a limited amount of time in which to do so. It helps to follow the “5 Ws” in determining a PSA’s content—who, what, when, where, and why—to organize the public service message.
- Determine the most important issue you want to communicate:
- This includes the key fact(s) about any event or issue, but also why people should care about it.
- Consider posing a question to draw people’s interest and engage them.
- Compel people to listen by relating to their lives—most people are concerned about crime; care about their own safety and their family’s safety; and likely have been, or know someone who has been, a victim of crime.
- Keep your message positive.
- Mention the name of the organization more than once to ensure that people remember it.
- Give people something simple to do—show up, volunteer, make a call or send an e-mail, or contact your organization for information about how they can help. A “call to action” is a great way to begin or end a PSA.
- Mention the name of your organization at least once. It’s okay to abbreviate the full name or use your acronym once the full name has first been cited.
- Use short sentences.
- Use short action verbs (avoid passive verbs that end in “ing”).
- Avoid jargon and language that the average viewer or listener won’t understand.
- Keep your telephone number and Web URL as simple as possible. For strictly local PSAs, an area code isn’t necessary. For Web URLs, it’s no longer necessary to include the “www.”
You can submit several versions of the same PSA, either with slightly different content and approaches, and/or different lengths.
Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) Public Service Announcements
In 2005, OVC produced seven video public service announcements in 20-, 30-, and 60-second formats, including one in Spanish. The PSAs provide general information about crime victims’ rights and services, and offer good examples of PSAs that have general, timeless messages for crime victims and the public. The PSAs can be viewed at: http://www.ovc.gov/publications/infores/psakit/welcome.html. An extensive guidebook was developed specifically for victim service organizations, agencies, and professionals that includes advice about how to create your own PSA Campaign including detailed strategies for how to get them aired or published. The PSA Guidebook is free and available for viewing and/or download at same OVC web address listed above.