You may think this is one of the easiest sells. You’re putting together a public service spot to let people know about an important issue. Maybe you’re in charge of the local Red Cross and you’re holding a blood drive. Or, you’re raising funds for earthquake victims in El Salvador. Maybe you’re a retired schoolteacher who has gathered a group of colleagues to offer free tutoring to low-income youths. Everything is in place, and now all you have to do is make the public aware of what you’re doing. It should be simple to get some time for a quick public service announcement on television. After all, stations are required to set aside a certain amount of airtime for public service spots, right?
Not quite. While the FCC requires broadcast stations to air programming that is in the public interest, that doesn’t mean it has to be in the form of public service announcements. Since cable networks aren’t regulated by the FCC, the standards are even more lenient for them, although many choose to air some form of public interest programming to maintain a good public image. Quick note here: We’re not talking about public access programming which cable operators (as opposed to cable networks) offer on certain channels. Certainly you could try to get your message out that way, but viewership of these channels is extremely low so you’re not likely to see a huge response.
The Bottom Line
The amount of available airtime for public service announcements is tight, stations have high requirements for PSA content, and they can afford to be picky because they know there’s no end to the groups that are lining up to get their 30 seconds of free exposure. If you want to attract the attention of public service directors and increase your odds of getting some airtime, you need a professionally produced PSA. While it’s painful to admit this when talking about worthy causes, the sleeker the spot, the more likely it is to get chosen and to be used often.
It’s true that if you plan to air the PSA solely in a small market, you might get away with a low-budget production. But if you’re looking to score time in medium-to-large markets, or even national television, and if your television spot is part of a larger marketing campaign including print and online media, you can expect to spend some money.
Where Is My Money Going?
Part of that will go to pay the production company. You may need money for the spokesperson doing the spot (although famous people will often donate their services if they like the cause), and you may even need money to get the spot on the air. We’ll cover that in a minute.
How do you raise funds for a PSA? Corporate sponsors might be willing to donate money if they believe the issue is worthwhile. But, that requires making a pitch to them. The benefit of going through this step is that you can often use the same pitch, with just a little reworking, to persuade a station to give you airtime for your spot. When pitching to financial backers, you need to be as prepared as possible to show them you’ve thought things through and have a firm idea of how and why the PSA will be effective. Having storyboarding as part of your pitch will help greatly.
You also need to be careful about other pre-production aspects like scriptwriting because stations are very selective about the wording they consider acceptable in order for a spot to get that free airtime. Let’s take the fundraising drive for earthquake victims in El Salvador. You can, in general, use broad wording such as: “Please lend a helping hand to those in need,” but you can’t specifically solicit donations by saying: “Send your check to….”
Paying For Airtime
Even though your spot is “public service,” you may have a better chance of getting airtime if you just buy it outright. This can be problematic on a number of levels, though. If you’re trying to air your campaign on several stations in the same market and pay for time on one of them, other stations will likely turn you down. If they’ve already accepted the PSA, they could yank it from air altogether if they find out you paid a competing station for time. Their thinking is, if you can pay for time on another station, you should be willing to pay for it on theirs.
There is a potential halfway point you can reach with stations. If you agree to buy a certain amount of airtime, some stations may agree to give you additional free time, or maybe even match the amount of time you’ve bought. If you have a broad campaign in many markets, you still have to be aware of the danger that some stations will find out that you paid for airtime in a certain market, so they’ll be less inclined to give you time for free on their channels.
One of the benefits of working with a production company like Hencar is that we’ll help you develop your pitches to potential sponsors and to TV stations to give you the best chance of getting the funding you need and the airtime you crave. We’ll also work closely with the public service contacts at those stations to ensure your final product meets their PSA standards so that you’re not left with a video you can’t use. Many other production companies don’t offer that level of involvement and could leave you holding the bag. We’ll also take care of delivering the final product in the format each station prefers.
When you work with Hencar, you can be certain that we’ll take care of all the details that will make your PSA stand out and inspire others to take action for the causes you’re championing. Contact us today to get started!
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