If you want to see your next public service ad on TV, read it in print, or hear it on the radio, learn why this is commandment #1.
According to the National Association of Broadcasters, US television and radio stations donated $4.6 billion of advertising time for public service announcements last year. If you still have the feeling, though, that PSAs (perhaps including yours) run less frequently these days, you’re not alone. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation monitored broadcast and cable TV programming for six months in 2000 and found that less than one-half of one percent of air time was devoted to PSAs. Nearly half of these ads, not so incidentally, appeared between midnight and 6:00 am.
Kaiser’s discouraging numbers do not faze Jeff Boal. Five years at the Ad Council and eight more running the PlowShare Group (a full-service advertising agency) have taught Boal how to get PSAs on the air – and not just for an audience of insomniacs. When The Nature Conservancy hired PlowShare to solicit free media for a national branding campaign, TNC set a one-year goal of $15 million. PlowShare delivered $33 million. The key to such success, Boal says, is recognizing that companies don’t decide which PSAs will air and which won’t.People do. And once you understand how these gatekeepers think, you’re half way home.
The average television station, according to Boal, receives 3-5 PSA kits every day. Typically, they clutter the desk of an underpaid entry-level employee who is struggling to cover what used to be two or three different jobs. “These people are looking for reasons not to run your campaign,” Boal says, mostly to shrink the pile of ads they must choose among. Consequently, public interest advertisers must learn how to avoid the mistakes that let gatekeepers immediately toss out their ads and how to build in features that will help their ads stand out in a pack.
To accomplish both ends, Boal advises close attention be paid to five elements of the donated media campaign:
“Most nonprofits don’t understand how competitive this really is,” says Boal. “Rather than thinking they have some kind of right to free time, their mind-set should be, What do I have to do to earn the time? Why is my issue more important for the available time than the organization down the street?” Never forget that there are two audiences in every donated media campaign. If your PSA kit doesn’t speak to the gatekeepers, you won’t have the chance to speak to the people you truly need to reach.