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Getting the most from your PSA campaign in an election year

by | Jan 17, 2024

By Steve Edelman, Partner and President of Connect360.

Nonprofits with vital messages to share need to start planning now to ensure their messages rise to the top during the political advertising flood of 2024. Because Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are dependent on the availability of donated ad time the upcoming election cycle can mean fewer slots will be available for PSAs. Fortunately, there are things you can do to work around this challenge.

With a decade of experience placing Public Service Announcements, we have learned a great deal about how to presidential elections work and how to best navigate through them.

Using History to Plan for the Future

Looking back at all PSA results Nielsen tracked, excluding PSAs distributed by the Ad Council, over the past five years, it is easy to see trends in how PSA airings preformed. Let’s focus on just 2020, which was the last national presidential election. Total airings were up by 3% compared to the prior year, as shown by the green line in the chart below.

Airings during the three key campaign months of September-November (shown by the blue line) were down slightly compared to the previous year. However, airings during the other nine months of the year (shown by the brown line) were up by over 5%, resulting in an overall increase in PSA airings for the year. What we learn from this is that political advertising did suppress PSA results during the key months in the run up to the November election, but results in the other months held strong.

Knowing this can be extremely helpful in planning a successful PSA campaign, because it shows how to steer around the sharp currents caused by a presidential election and how to quickly recover from any adverse impact caused by election spending. As the chart shows, PSA airings quickly rebounded after the 2020 political season ended. Starting in 2021, after the 2020 presidential election year had past, Nielsen again reported large increases in PSA airings, with 12% airings up by 12% and 2022 up by 10%.

PSA Outlook for the 2024 Election Season

Our forecast is that the 2024 presidential election will generate more political advertising than any other U.S. election in history. Ad Impact predicted around $10 billion in political ad spend for the 2023-2024 election cycle. The media agency, Assembly, pushed that number even higher, to $12 billion. Whatever the final number turns out to be, the political wave is already building.


In the months leading up to this November’s state and local elections, media outlets have already seen $843 million in political ads. That’s 75% more than this time four years ago. Not surprisingly, the most expensive races are in toss-up districts, with much of the investment going to contested Senate and House seats.

The majority of these funds are going to broadcast television stations. Broadcast advertising is projected to make up about 50% of the election advertising landscape, with an extra boost in Spanish-language broadcast markets.

Presidential election ad spending is likely to skyrocket starting around August and will almost certainly remain high through the November 5 election date. Careful planning is, therefore, needed to make sure a public service announcement campaigns don’t get drowned by a wave in political ad spending. A smart strategy could make all the difference for nonprofits and other organizations with PSAs to share.

Strategies to Avoid the Political Ad Wave
– Launch Your Campaign Early

The most effective action you can take may be to simply launch your public service announcement earlier in the year. Plan to roll out your campaign no later than June — and even earlier if possible — so you can get in front of television and radio decision makers before the election ad currents get too strong. Once your campaign is locked in you stand a stronger chance of not being bumped by incoming political ads and competing PSA c ampaigns.

If you can’t get your message out early, plan to launch or relaunch after November 5th. At Connect360, we plan to closely monitor PSA placements during the election cycle and have developed low-cost ways to relaunch campaigns that have been seriously affected by a political ad wave.

– Consider By State Activity

Experts project high ad spend in hotly contested states like California, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Meanwhile, political advertising spend is likely to be much lighter in states like Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska. Starting extra early in these states might offer a greater chance for success.

– Target Television Outlets That Are Less Impacted by Political Advertising

Getting strategic about media channels may also help your PSA be seen. About half of Connect360 airings come from national cable networks, regional sports networks and diginets (nationally distributed programming that runs on local stations and cable channels). These outlets are less used by political advertisers. If you can get in with them early, you may be able to lock in ad slots before the biggest surge in political advertising hits. If you somehow miss your window of opportunity, please talk with us. We have redistribution tools that have the ability to help an affected campaign get back on course.

– Aim for Evergreen Messaging

Some organizations regularly produce PSAs around specific dates or awareness months. For example, September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month and October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. If your organization has awareness dates that overlap the height of the political season, you might want to take a different approach this year.

Consider making a more evergreen campaign that is less anchored to the specific awareness month. You can still mention the awareness event in your collateral packet, but make sure you provide other compelling reasons for stations to run your PSA.

The Key to Success in 2024: Start Planning Early

Political advertising doesn’t have to drown your PSA campaign. For help charting a course through the tides of the 2024 election, contact the PSA professionals at Connect360. We have the experience, information and tools to help your PSA campaign succeed.

Connect360 is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

IMAGE: Connect360


About the Author

Steve Edelman

Steve Edelman is a Partner and President of Connect360. He is a leading expert on the measurement, valuation, and financial reporting of Public Service Announcements by not-for-profit organizations. He is a CPA and has an extensive background in the application of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to earned media valuations and in-kind donations nonprofits receive from broadcasting companies as part of their PSA campaigns. He is the author of numerous articles on the subject and has serves as a resource to nonprofit CFOs, their CPA firms, and professional publications.


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