How to Write a Public Service Announcement


What is a Public Service Announcement?

Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) are short announcements prepared to provide information to the public. An announcement contains information that benefits its intended audience, rather than the company that created it. For example, a PSA that provides health information differs from an ad that promotes the sale of a health product. Most PSA’s are produced by nonprofit associations, but commercial, for-profit organizations may also use them to promote their nonprofit activities and events.

PSA’s are used by organizations to:

  • Publicize community events.
  • Provide health and safety tips.
  • Assist in fund raising efforts.
  • Inform and influence public opinion.

PSA messages:

  • Must contain information that is beneficial to the community.
  • Should not include controversial or self-serving material.

 

 


Less is More
In developing your PSA, you will be using the same approach as newspaper reporters and identifying the key elements of the story in their order of importance: WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY. Even 15 seconds of air-time is enough to convey that the Garden Club is having an ice cream social at 2 p.m. on April 5th in McKinley Park to raise money for cancer research. While it would be nice to fluff out the piece and mention that they’ve been doing these ice cream socials for the past 25 years, that the incoming president, Mrs. Eunice Flackmeyer, will be making the welcoming speech to the public, and that the ice cream will be available with a yummy choice of berries, nuts or candy toppings and whipped cream, none of this is crucial to the PSA.

To the contrary, the shorter the time allotment for your message, the simpler it needs to be so as not to confuse the listeners/viewers with more information than they can handle at the moment. In a longer message, of course, it’s essential to repeat your key elements for reinforcement. The following 3-point reinforcement rule is important in getting your PSA to “stick” in their minds.

1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them

2. Tell it to them

3. Then tell it again

You also need to keep in mind - especially with radio - that your listeners may be engaged in some other activity when your PSA airs (i.e., driving a car) and may not have immediate access to a paper and pen to write everything down. It’s for this reason that a number of PSA spots on morning and evening commute programs include a handy reference as to where listeners can call for reservations/further information (i.e., “Call your local Arthritis Association for details on the event”) or, in the case of longer messages, announce that they will be repeating the phone number at the end of the announcement.


Finding Talent
The “stars” of your PSA can be anyone from an organizational spokesperson or celebrity to a small cast of volunteer actors. While your watchword should be “simple” in terms of production costs, this shouldn’t translate to “dull.” A testimonial from someone who has benefited from the organization’s past services or philanthropy can be just as effective, if not more so, than an imaginative skit which tells some sort of story or advances a particular point of view. Perhaps your PSA will be an endorsement from an actual member of the organization or a celebrity whose presence will lend credibility and/or prestige to the message. Yet another option is simply to utilize voice-over's along with graphics, photographs, music, or video footage. Make sure if you use someone else’s material, however, that you have abided by all copyright rules and secured the necessary releases and permission to incorporate such material in your script.

  Having a Purpose
It is vital that you know what the PSA message is going to be and who the target audience will be. Do you want the listeners/viewers to volunteer their time? Open their wallets? Lobby for a specific cause? You need to know what the overall intent of the message is and, accordingly, design a message that will best fit the targeted age group, gender, occupation, and educational level. For example, the more intelligent the intended audience, the higher their ability to comprehend abstract and/or multiple messages within a single framework. Younger or less savvy audiences will need the message spelled out for them via word/picture association and repetitive language.

Last of all; think of your PSA as a freeway billboard that is being viewed at 60 miles an hour. What do you most want people to remember about it? If you can conceptualize the project in that manner, you are well on your way to creating an effective PSA that your audience—and your client—will remember!


Tips for writing public service announcements:

  1. Use only one side of a standard 8.5" X 11" sheet of white paper; the official letterhead of the sponsoring organization is ideal.
  2. The words "PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT" should be typed in the top left-hand corner to indicate this is a request for a non-paid/non-advertising community announcement.
  3. Write a headline summarizing your message. Then type in the number of seconds (i.e. :30 sec) it will take to read the message. Note that most stations prefer announcements in :15, :30, or :60 second increments; with :30 being the best length. Remember, the station is making the announcement without charge.
  4. Make sure the information is newsworthy.
  5. Write an announcement describing your topic and its benefits. Tell the audience that the information is intended for them and why they should continue to read it:

     


Visit the following links to see sample public service announcements:
example 1 (pdf), example 2 (pdf), example 3 (doc), example 4 (pdf)