A Public Service Announcement (PSA) can be written or presented in audio or visual form. For our purposes, we’ll talk about the written script only.
Unlike a press release, a public service announcement is usually transmitted electronically, via radio or television in a short spot of ten to sixty seconds. A requirement of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is that stations donate a certain amount of airtime to serve the public and the community. Most public radio and TV stations have a community calendar for which they will announce events to the public. Health or safety tips are included within this public service requisite.
A public service announcement typically heralds a community event, usually, but not always, for a non-profit organization. Commercial groups can also announce non-profit events or services. If you just want a pre-event plug, the community calendar is where you should direct your PSA. Many local newspapers also have community calendars so PSA’s are not limited to electronic media.
Though the PSA covers less material than the archetypal press release, it requires the same “who, what, where, when and why.” You have several choices when deciding what type of coverage you’d like to have. You may not always get it, but you can at least know what to shoot for. You can aim for just the pre-event announcement which would go to the Calendar; you can try for an on-camera interview to have yourself or a personal representative announce the event; you can request a video taping of the actual event to be aired later on the news or at a future date of significance such as in advance of next year’s event or at any other time. You can also submit your own video, but that’s another subject.
The technicalities of writing a PSA differ somewhat from media outlet to media outlet. But If you use the following basics as your guide, you won’t go wrong. Instead of putting “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” on the top left hand side of the page as you do for a press release, you put “PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT” at the top middle of the single sheet of paper followed by a few spaces and then the date that you’d like your announcement to air. If you have stationary with your company’s logo, you can work your format around that. Next, include name, phone, email, and fax of the contact person. Skip a few lines and entitle your announcement, in bold letters, by the name of the event, followed by a short, concise explanation of what you want aired. State what type of coverage you seek. Send it about three weeks in advance. At the end, write ‘-end-‘ or ‘# # #,’ as you do in a press release.
You need to know your plan ahead so you can send your PSA to the proper person or department. Personal contact, of course, is the most ideal, meaning you or someone you know has a personal contact or influence at the media outlet. In that case, it’s full steam ahead and you write it any way that person wants it. Otherwise, you must proceed as do most of us mere mortals, by directing your PSA to the target point. For a single-mailing PSA, call the station and get the proper name of the Department head and address it to her or him.
If you are doing a mass mailing to several media outlets, then the only way to address your PSA is to the Public Service Director at the different addresses to which you are sending them. Then add “Community Calendar” or “Program Director” or “On Air Interviews,” depending upon which coverage you seek. Stations don’t necessarily use these titles but common sense says it will increase your chances of getting your PSA to the proper department.