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How to get a Public Service Announcement on TV

by | Jan 4, 2024

Does your organization want to reach large audiences across the country on a limited budget? Then you might want to learn how to get a public service announcement on TV. Running a Public Service Announcement on national television allows you to access the millions of dollars in free advertising that broadcasters are making available to qualified nonprofit organizations.

Many national 501(c)(3) organizations receive in excess of $5 million of donated advertising time to air their PSA videos. We’ll show you how to access some of that funding based on our decades of experience helping organizations across the country get a public service announcement on TV.

Why TV Stations Air Public Service Announcements

Some people think that television stations are required to air PSAs. In reality, the FCC lifted that requirement decades ago, however, stations are happy to air PSAs for three reasons:

  • PSAs are one way stations can demonstrate to the federal government that they are operating in the public interest in order to maintain their broadcasting license.
  • PSAs let stations fill unsold ad space and avoid empty airtime or the need to discount it in an effort to find buyers.
  • PSAs help stations demonstrate to viewers, advertisers, and others that it cares about the community it serves and is operating in a socially responsible way.

By understanding what stations look for, we have helped nonprofit organizations access over $800 million of donated ad time in 2022 alone. The average nonprofit gets over $5 million in free air time to run public service advertising, but some have received $20 million or more.

There are things we have learned over the years that help make for a successful campaign. Here are a few of them.

Quick Tips for How to Get a Public Service Announcement on TV

The first goal is to make it easy for stations to receive and evaluate your PSA videos. Most want to receive them digitally through a special PSA submission site created for them by Extreme Reach. Extreme Reach is a company that delivers most of the broadcast commercials you see on television. Mailing and emailing PSA commercials to stations rarely works, because it does not fit in with the way stations operate.

To help a campaign to succeed, we always send PSAs to all 1,900 television stations in the United States. This is because we have found it is impossible to tell in advance which stations will be interested in any specific campaign.

But there are a few things we do understand about how to get a public service announcement on TV and what makes a PSA effective.

Work with the Station’s Programming Process

Stations often plan their programming and advertising weeks or even months in advance. If you want your PSA to run during a specific period or awareness month, you need to deliver your message well in advance of that deadline. The earlier you make your PSA commercials available, the more likely they are to end up on the schedule.

It’s important to make sure your submission tells your story perfectly and includes all the supporting information needed to evaluate it. Stations don’t have the time to contact an organization about missing information or to learn more about the message. It’s a one-strike and you’re out process.

By delivering PSAs for review digitally into the operations systems of all stations, we make it easy for them to evaluate and schedule it for airing.

Provide Multiple Video Lengths

TV stations fit public service advertising in around the rest of their ad inventory and programming. That is why you improve your chance of maximizing airings by providing stations with PSAs of several different lengths. We recommend providing :60, :30 and :15 second spots. Some smart editing can turn a 60-second video into a 15-second video and maximize your chances of getting the spot on television.

Choose Your Spokesperson Carefully

Whether you use a voiceover artist or feature an on-screen spokesperson, choose the voice of your advertisement carefully. You might think you need a celebrity to add credibility, but star-power can be more trouble than it’s worth. If your spokesperson appears on a television show, competing stations may choose not to run your ad. A less famous spokesperson also helps you avoid celebrity scandals.

Keep Corporate Sponsorships Subtle

Sometimes corporate sponsorship can help you produce your vital message, but tread carefully. TV stations don’t want to feel like they’re giving free advertising to a for-profit company. Limit any mention of corporate sponsors to a second or two, and make sure their logo stays small. Never feature corporate-branded products in your PSAs.

Focus on the Message, Not Fundraising

Many stations are also uncomfortable with direct requests for donations. They’re already providing you with free ad space, so using that time to solicit donations might seem like asking for too much. This attitude is changing in some places, but remember to keep the focus on your vital message. Let awareness drive donations naturally when people visit your website for more information.

Get Expert Support and Advice Early

These tips might leave you feeling overwhelmed, but you don’t need to know everything about how to get a public service announcement on TV. You just need to work with someone who does.

Invite a distribution partner, like Connect360, into the conversation early. We recommend bringing us in before production even starts. That way, we can help you avoid common pitfalls as you craft your vital message.

Now that you know how to get a public service announcement on TV you might have some questions about how PSAs work, what makes a PSA effective, or how to structure a PSA campaign. For in-depth guidance on how to succeed with broadcast public service announcements, download The Essential Guide to Broadcast PSA Success. It’s the essential resource for any organization with a vital public interest message to share.

About the author: 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. Connect360, a Capitol Communicator sponsor, is a leading media placement agency driving measurable results for some of Charity Navigator’s highest-ranked nonprofits, well-known associations, government agencies and public relations/marketing firms.

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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