What is a public service announcement?
Length of PSA
Number of Words
Your copy should be typed, double or triple-spaced.
You can put more than one spot per page for the shorter ones, but with 30 and 60 second spots, put them on separate pages.
The top of the sheet should list:
The script itself should be split into two columns; the left column will list all directions, camera angles, sound effects, etc. and the right column lists all dialogue.
Don't use hyphenations or abbreviations.
The bottom of the sheet should be marked with "###"? the standard ending used in releases to the media to let the media outlet know there are no further pages to the script or story.
Your script can be sent as "live copy"-- a simple script that's ready to be read by a live on-air announcer -- or as a pre-recorded tape. While live copy is inexpensive and is used extensively in radio, television stations rarely use live copy scripts.
Below is an example of a live copy PSA script for radio. Two longer scripts -- one for radio and one for television -- are shown with the other examples at the end of this section.
Example: Sample radio PSA script -- live copy
Use: IMMEDIATE: TFN
Time: 20 seconds
Agency: Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
Title: "Day of Compassion"
Main Point: Day of Compassion will be held June 20 Fifteen years ago, most people thought it couldn't happen to them. Today we know better. AIDS has taken more than 320,000 lives nationwide. It could happen to someone you love. Turn on your radio or TV on June 20th and experience a Day of Compassion. It could save lives. Be aware. Be safe. Be compassionate.
Thanks to GLAAD for the above example. For more scripts of Day of Compassion PSA 's, check out the examples at the end of this section.
If you can get help from an outside professional or somebody who has radio/television experience, this is a good time to do so. He or she can review your work for you and offer suggestions. It won't take much time, since PSA's are so short.
Pretesting your script is always a good idea. Find some people who are members of your target audience, show them or let them read the script for the PSA, and ask them for critical feedback. In addition to members of your target audience, you might also want to ask health professionals and activists, teachers, and religious leaders to take part in pretesting. It doesn't have to be a big, hairy, formal process. Whatever amount of time you spend pretesting will almost always pay off in greater effectiveness of your PSA.
Now you have a script that's ready to go! If you're just making live copy scripts, you can skip the next part ("How do you produce a PSA?") and go directly on to "How do you get your PSA on the air?" If you're going to be sending in a pre-recorded tape, read on!
If you're planning on sending in a pre-recorded PSA, decide whether you should produce it yourself or bring in outside help at this point. Generally, it's not a good idea to produce it yourself unless you're sure you can do a professional-quality job. Everyone has seen or heard at least a few badly produced local PSA's in their time; you know it can negatively affect your opinion of an organization. If you can't be certain you can do a genuinely good job of it, you shouldn't attempt to produce your own PSA.
But don't despair! You can have a well-made PSA without going to the expense of paying a professional television or radio production company. Find out if anyone in your group has broadcasting experience. Approach area advertising agencies and production companies to see if any of them would donate personnel, studio time, or equipment for your PSA. Consider tapping into broadcasting students at any area universities. They're hungry for the experience and most upperclassmen will have had some formal training and experience.
As a last resort, you can pay a professional production or advertising company to produce your script. You may be able to get a reduced rate for nonprofit agencies, so be sure to ask about that possibility.
Tips for radio:
Tips for television:
Chances are good that you can get help from your local community access cable TV station. Many of them also offer free production courses, which could be useful to you if you might be producing videos on a regular basis.
Many local cable TV stations also do "scrolls," or community-calendar type announcements. Your message might also be included as one of these. The announcement is often 25-50 words of copy, sometimes even less, and is often written similarly to a radio PSA. Check with your cable TV station for details.
If you can afford to, make multiple PSAs so that the same one doesn't play over and over. You don't want your audience to get sick of your message, so having different versions of the same message, or several different PSA's with different messages, is one way to mix things up and keep their attention. Keep it brief and simple! Focus what you want the viewer to do or remember after they see or hear your PSA. Stick to having only two or three main characters in the PSA to help your audience focus on the message. Let the actors give you feedback and make suggestions on the script. They will appreciate that you take their input seriously, and they often have great ideas. When information changes (for example, with AIDS PSA's, where new treatments are being developed all the time), change your PSA's as soon as possible. Contact the station(s) playing it and get them to stop running old material, and produce new PSA's with updated information as quickly as you can. Talk with your actors and production staff about payment or donated time, and have a written agreement in place before production begins.
Different stations have different policies for PSA's. For example, in some small communities, you can just call in your PSA by telephone. Other stations require the PSA script, while others require a fully produced, ready-to-air version. Find out ahead of time what their requirements are -- never send a PSA without knowing the rules and guidelines of the station first. Stations also vary around maximum PSA length and minimum advance notice. In other words, you want to know what the local ground rules are before you take to the field.
It's generally a lot easier to get a PSA run on the radio than on television. Once you're familiar with submission requirements, send your PSA, following station guidelines. This will normally include a cover letter, along with any specific requests or instructions.
Even if you've already talked to your contact on the phone or in person you should take care to write a good cover letter when you send your PSA in. Mention any times that you've already talked with the contact. Be sure to list any and all enclosed items or additional pages. And, most importantly, be appreciative!
Example: PSA Cover Letter
Anytown Teen Pregnancy Prevention
October 10, 1998
Dear Ms. Huang:
As per our telephone conversation on October 8, enclosed please find three index cards with ready-to-read announcer PSA's for our teen parents speaker's bureau program, as well as four cassette tapes with the following:
As per your request, all of the 10-second spots are on a single tape, all the 15 -second spots are on another, and so on. For your reference, I have also enclosed copies of the scripts for the taped spots.
Thank you for taking the time to explain KPSA's policies and requirements on submitting public service announcements when I spoke with you on Tuesday. I look forward to hearing the first of our PSA's during Jammin' Jeska's Morning Madhouse on October 22, if I'm mistaken about this date, please let me know.
We feel confident that with KPSA's support we'll have a significant impact on teen pregnancy in our community. Again, thank you very much for your assistance and guidance in getting these important messages on the air.
Anytown Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition
Make sure you keep your own copies of everything! Media outlets receive a lot of PSA's; misplacing or losing them is common, so be prepared to provide a new copy if necessary. Follow up with a phone call a few days later.
Getting a PSA shown on television is highly competitive. It helps to make a personal contact with someone on the station's staff. Call to find out who is in charge of selecting which PSA's are run. Depending on the size of the market and the structure of the particular station you're dealing with, your best contact person could be the public affairs director, traffic director, program director, promotions manager, or even the station manager.
Once you know who your contact should be, call and ask if you can make an appointment to talk about the possibility of airing your PSA. Be on time, and bring an air-ready copy of the PSA and the script as well as information on your organization or initiative. It might help to bring proof of your group's tax exempt status as well. If your contact is unfamiliar with your group, you may have to spend the first few minutes explaining who you are and what you do.
Explain how the PSA fits into your overall media campaign, the goals of the campaign, and how running it at the times you're asking for will help the campaign be more effective. And of course, be gracious and professional at all times -- any station that runs your PSA is doing you a favor, and if you come off as too pushy or unappreciative it only hurts your chances of getting your PSA on the air.
Once you've gotten approval for your PSA
After you've gotten an agreement to run your PSA from a radio or television station, find out the day and time that it will start playing. Your contact may not be the same person who actually schedules the spots, so if necessary ask him or her who is in charge of scheduling and then contact that person.
Listen to or watch the station for the first airing to make sure your PSA is shown (and that it is shown correctly). Follow up by sending a thank you note and, if you can, some small token of your gratitude, such as a certificate of appreciation or an invitation to one of your group's events.
Do keep in mind that your spot might not run exactly at the time that your contact says it will. PSA schedules are always subject to change.
The best way to judge effectiveness is to request a specific action, and then to monitor the actions taken. For example, if you're requesting listeners to call a number, then you measure the number of calls received before the PSA aired. The same applies if you're asking for postcards.
Alternatively, if you were asking for attendance at an event, you could both measure attendance and also ask those attending how they heard about the event, and note the percent mentioning PSA's.
Once it's on the air, see if you can use the PSA to get more extensive media coverage, such as a media story on your work, or being a guest on a panel show, or possibly -- depending on the station and the media market -- being able to do a radio editorial or getting editorial reply time. This is using the principal of leverage, a very powerful principle in doing community work.
Finally, as noted before, pre-testing should help you figure out how effective a PSA may or may not be. You'll find more information on how to evaluate a media campaign in Chapter 45, Section 2: Conducting a Social Marketing Campaign.
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New York State Department of Health. (1997). Writing public service announcements [Online].
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