By Fraser P. Seitel
I know it's the 21st century. And I understand that communicators today tweet and befriend and blog and that TV viewing is now by appointment only via TiVo and DVR and Video Capture Card. (I may be old, but I'm not dumb – or at least, not that dumb!)
So why in the world would I raise the subject of PSAs as a publicity vehicle in this digital age? 'Cuz they work, that's why. In fact, in the words of one admittedly-biased PSA producer, "The Public Service Announcement as tool to build brand identity is stronger than ever."
How could that be, you ask, when the three network newscasts lost half a million viewers last year, the three network morning shows lost 300,000 viewers, and TV ratings continue to decline at the hands of Apple iOS apps alone?
For answers, we turn to the dean of PSA producers, Ray Salo, of San Ramon, Calif., whose Salo Productions has been pumping out award-winning, 10 to 60-second TV and radio client public service announcements for three decades.
Q. With the decline of broadcast television and the rise of on-demand, commercial-free programming, why would an organization use PSAs?
RS. For one thing: Cable. We distribute PSAs to 500 cable systems across the nation. This greatly increases the pickup in the top 20 markets. One recent TV PSA for our longstanding Icelandic Tourist Board client received 15 uses in the top 15 TV markets.
Q. But isn't such pervasive use the exception in such a saturated TV marketplace?
RS. We guarantee our clients 2,000 telecasts. We average 2,000-4,000 telecasts, 25-50 million viewers, $200,000-$400,000 in "value of air time." That's a lot of attention for a brand.
Q. How has the economic recession impacted the market for PSAs?
RS. It's helped. As more commercial airtime opens up in unsold blocks, more slots are filled with PSAs. Our clients have experienced upwards of a 10% increase in results over the 2009-2010 economic downturn.
Q. How has PSA placement changed over time?
RS. In recent years, most of our TV PSAs are for brand building and cause-related brand building, for everything from safe burgers to causes of asthma to keeping up with social security.
Q. What are the best topics for PSA coverage?
RS. Traditional topics for PSAs are safety and health. But today, few topics are off limits, and almost anything that offers information in the public interest is fair game.
Q. Do celebrities help PSA usage?
RS. They aren't necessary, but they certainly don't hurt. We've produced recent PSAs, featuring NASCAR driver Bobby Labonte on Internet safety for children and baseball player Ken Griffey, Sr. on ending Prostate Cancer. But most spots we produce feature no celebrities.
Q. Don't most PSAs run at odd hours?
RS. Late night is about 25-33%. Technically, PSAs are used ROS, meaning "run of schedule," which includes all time periods.
Q. What's the ideal length for a PSA?
RS. The ideal TV combination is a 30-second spot and a 60-second spot. That's what our standard PSA package includes.
Q. How much does a typical TV PSA cost?
RS. In most cases, our total package – from creation to production to distribution – runs under $45,000 all-in.
Q. What time of year is best for PSAs?
RS. Summertime provides the heaviest usage, but PSAs run throughout the year.
Q. How long do PSAs run on TV stations?
RS. Usually for six months, with the first three months providing the most hits.
Q. Can PSAs be re-released?
RS. Yes, probably unique among public relations vehicles, re-release of a PSA in the second year usually provides good results.
Frasier P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 30 years. He may be reached directly at yusake at aol.com.
He is author of the Prentice-Hall text The Practice of Public Relations, now in its eleventh edition, and co-author of Idea Wise.