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Placing PSAs: Industry Profiles: Polly Sherard

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Document Type Placing Public Service Announcements
This PowerPoint presentation will walk you through the steps of creating, placing and evaluating a PSA campaign, including tips from media professionals on how to best execute a PSA plan.
File size: 3.6MB

Updated: 6.1.06      Printable Printable version

Over the many years that Polly Sherard worked in television, she saw a lot of changes in the industry. The introduction of cable, the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle increased the competition for viewers and advertising revenue. As a result, many local television stations cut back or eliminated their community affairs departments. In this interview, Sherard offered advice to Covering Kids & Families coalitions looking to place PSAs: think more broadly and think about building media partnerships.

Are local stations scaling back their community affairs departments?
Today's economy is unkind to public service announcements. Despite the economic downturn this past year, most television stations sell all of their available advertising time, leaving little room for free public service advertising. Now, many stations are reporting that advertising is on the upswing again, which will further limit public service advertising. Rather than devote significant time to free advertising and public service announcements, many stations are instead opting to cover community affairs during regular newscasts--if these topics are considered newsworthy. With the expansion of local news programming during the early morning, late afternoon and weekends, this is a boon for news producers who are often looking for local stories to help fill their program.

Station sales departments are also taking on community issues and finding corporations--and even nonprofits--that are willing to partner and sponsor advertising with a social message by purchasing airtime. Those partnerships sometimes come with discounted advertising rates, but still ensure the station will see some revenue for their work. Paying for PSAs guarantees that the spot will actually air when there is an audience. Many sales departments are also including space on station Web sites in these partnership packages--to address and build on their coverage of community issues.

Does this mean that television stations are no longer placing free PSAs for nonprofit organizations?
No. It's just much harder to get free placements today. TV stations in large and small media markets still run PSAs from community groups that are working on important issues, like getting uninsured kids covered. Covering Kids & Families can reach uninsured families through no-cost PSAs, but it is more difficult to get your announcements placed, and it's hard to get a commitment to air the advertising during a daypart with a large audience. That's why you often see PSAs in the middle of the night! For a station to give serious consideration to placing your spots during programming that reaches your target audience, you will need to convince a station of a few things: 1) your coalition is not only wide, but deep, with recognized community leaders and influential groups, and 2) a significant portion of their viewers can benefit from information about low-cost and free health care coverage for kids.

There are many other ways that a television station can promote affordable health care coverage for kids; PSAs are just one option. Covering Kids & Families coalitions should think more broadly and try to build a media partnership that may help you reach more families over a longer period of time.

How can a coalition form a media partnership?
Building a successful media partnership takes a little homework. When television stations evaluate potential partners, they want to know what is in it for them--for both the news and sales departments. For a station in a top-10 media market to seriously consider a proposal for a media partnership, your coalition should identify potential sponsorship opportunities.

What does that mean? A coalition can either pool the resources that the member organizations bring to the table or identify new groups that might be able to subsidize a sponsorship effort. The business community can bring something unique to your coalition--funds that may serve as the foundation for a media partnership. Local companies known for their focus on children and health are a potential source for this funding. These partnerships can provide the seed money for subsidized or paid PSAs. Once a funding source is in place, it's time to pitch the partnership.

Is there value for a coalition to arrange a face-to-face meeting to pitch a PSA or media partnership?
Absolutely! The media constantly need to be reminded of the number of uninsured children in the nation and the impact that having no health insurance has on families. I recommend that coalitions be persistent in trying to arrange an in-person meeting. And once it is set, arrive prepared.

Keep your pitch succinct, but be sure to cover the key points: 1) the scope of this problem; 2) what the problem means to the station's viewers; 3) the solution that your program provides; 4) if possible, the sponsorship opportunities you can bring to a partnership; and 5) concrete ideas of what you want the media outlet to do. Some ideas for working with a station include planning community events, placing Web content, producing 10- to 15-second announcements that will promote Web content on the station, airing your PSAs and co-branding outreach materials.

When all is said and done, coalitions need to sell the idea of a partnership to a station. Local statistics will help your cause immensely. Most important, avoid pitching a partnership with the attitude that, "our issue is the most important and should be at the top of your priority list." Television stations hear this from every group supporting an important issue. Approach an outlet by positioning your initiative as one that will be a win-win for everyone involved.

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