Radio Hed: PSAs: Burdens or Opportunities?

Radio-Hed-Logo-2By Jeffrey Hedquist

Some Public Service Announcements will come to you as produced audio, some as scripts, some as ideas and requests. Some will be good – and will enhance the sound of your station. Some will be useable, but not particularly effective. Some will be dreadful – created by well-meaning, but misguided people with no experience in audio communication.

PSAs, like the music, talk, features, promos, and commercials on your station, are part of the programming. They will either increase or decrease listeners’ time spent listening. Although they don’t directly result in revenue for the station, it’s in your best interest to make them as successful as possible.

In general, the principles for effective commercials apply to effective PSAs.

What does your public service client want to accomplish? Do they want people to donate, contact elected officials with phone calls, emails, or (gasp) hand-written letters, attend an event, spread the word on social media, volunteer, or go to a web site? While they may be seeking all of the above actions, you’ll have to help them narrow their focus to the most important action for their cause, or the message will get diluted.

Do they want to change people’s behavior, habits or attitudes? Whether the goal is get people to stop smoking, stop texting while driving, eat better, start exercising, kick their addictions, moderate their drinking, get regular checkups or to take care of the environment, the question for your client to answer is:

“What’s the benefit for the person they want to take the desired action?” Once you know, craft the message around that benefit. Changing the world, modifying the trends of time, pulling us all back from the brink of destruction and establishing World peace are laudable goals, but how the listener is going to feel for taking the desired action is the most important element. The more personal the benefit, the more effective the PSA.

Who do they want to reach? Aim at the target audience. Don’t try to reach everyone. The target audience for the anti-litter campaign “Don’t Mess With Texas” was men 18-34. It’s been running since 1986 and reduced litter 29% in its first year and 70% since. It was built on state pride.

What would motivate people to take action? Facts are important, but we make decisions based on feelings. Build emotion into the messages. Not just the typical fear, shame, guilt and peer pressure. Use anger, frustration, or compassion. Tell me about the joy, love, pride, and happiness I’ll feel.

Empower listeners. Make them feel their actions can really accomplish something. Break the big goal of the organization into bite size chunks. Probe your “client” for niche stories. “Can you just tell me a story about a child you helped or a home you renovated or a family you brought together?”

When we started showing how each blood donation can save 3 lives, we reversed downward trends for some blood centers around the country. We helped generate millions of dollars for food banks by consistently dramatizing how every donated dollar can provide up to 5 meals. All with radio.

Announce progress toward the goal. People would rather get on a moving train than one that hasn’t started. If the goal is to raise $42,500 for a needed emergency vehicle, keep publicizing progress as donations reach $10,500, $17,980, etc. It’s the effective technique used in crowd funding.

7 Steps to a better PSA:

Capture the listener’s attention with a compelling audio headline. The first few seconds should grab your target audience and entice them to keep listening.

Make an emotional connection before making a logical appeal.

Demonstrate, don’t explain.

Tell a story.

Keep it simple.

Sound different than the other PSAs on the air.

Make a clear call to action

What are the benefits from creating PSAs that sound great and get results?

  • It’s great practice for creating any kind of effective messages.
  • You’ll help the station bond with the community.
  • You’ll warm up sponsors to advertise on your station.
  • You may help improve listeners’ health, prevent accidents, even save lives.

 ♦

Do you have a favorite technique for doing PSAs? Email jeffrey@hedquist.com. I’d love to hear it. © 1997–2015 Hedquist Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

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