Contact Info Resources Home FAQ Calendar Tools of the Trade Strategy and Planning Just Starting Home

PSAs: Getting it off the shelf

Where to start

Get it off the shelf!

Hundreds of new PSAs are distributed to radio and television stations each month and YOU can determine whether your PSA is aired or just sits on a shelf. Follow these steps to get your message out:

Watch, read and listen to local media

Become a media consumer of public service ads. Watch for PSAs on your local TV and cable stations and in your news-papers. Listen for PSAs on the radio. Knowing what types of spots your local media use gives you an opening when working to place PSAs.

Make a call or surf the Internet

To ensure that PSAs receive regular airtime and print space in your community, make personal contact with the public service manager responsible for PSA placement. Call the station or newspaper and ask who you should contact about placing a PSA. Another good place to start is the Internet. TV and radio stations usually post PSA placement information on their web sites.

Cultivate personal contact - it's the key to success

Identify key decision makers at each station. Knowing the right person to contact is important. These people act as gatekeepers and make decisions on which PSAs will be awarded time and space, as well as when they will appear.

After you have found the person in charge of PSAs, set up a meeting. Personal contact is the best way to have PSAs placed because it give public service managers a local connection to your issue. Competition for public service time and space is very intense. Each month, stations receive from a dozen to a hundred local and national PSAs. Although neither radio nor television stations are now required to donate a specific amount of time to PSAs, stations are obligated (as a condition of their FCC license) to determine local needs and respond to the community they serve. There is no such legal incentive for print media.

Start by asking if this is a good time to talk. If it isn't, find out when the person can best be reached. Talk briefly about your ideas and ask to meet to discuss it further, preferably at the station or newspaper.

Be prepared

Preparation for a face-to-face meeting can mean the difference between success or having your PSA sit on the shelf. Here's a basic list of questions you should ask yourself before every meeting.

  • What are the key points you want to make?
  • What specific action do you want to get from the outlet?
  • Have you identified the right decision maker?
  • Do you have enough material to show that your PSAs respond to a community need?
  • Should you bring along a community leader to the meeting to show support?
The Meeting

During your meeting, make sure to do the following:

  • Discuss the importance of your issue. Give the facts using local, state and national data.
  • Highlight programs going on in your area and show how support for them could reinforce the station's favorable public image.
  • Explain that the issue is a priority in your community. Personalize the issue as much as possible. Being able to tell stories as you share facts will help you communicate with public service managers. But be clear that your interest is in raising awareness of the larger issue, not just in one case.
  • Highlight the relevance of the ads for area residents - the audience that both you and your media partners want to reach. Talk about the difference that running the PSAs will make in your community.
  • Remember to bring along pertinent material to leave behind. These include samples of fulfillment items, brochures, and lists of people and programs in your community.
  • Determine if any follow-up is needed, particularly if questions arise that cannot be fully resolved during the meeting.
Verify your next steps

If the media outlet agrees to run the PSA, ask the manager to send you a list of air or print times. Confirm that the outlet will run a local tagline with your organization name and phone number.

If the station has agreed to produce an original spot, then work to develop a script that highlights your message.

Don't take no for an answer

If you cannot get a commitment to run the PSA, find out why. Are they committed to another program area? Ask what you can do to help the station do a better public affairs job for itself and its community. Many stations may not flat-out refuse, but they may have other reasons why they are unable to commit.

If the station currently has too many PSAs running, ask if you can wait in line until some of the existing PSAs rotate off the schedule.

If you are having problems setting up a meeting, you may want to send a letter outlining your ideas.

Try bartering time

You may also want to consider contacting advertisers in your area to see if they are willing to barter spots with local buys. If companies in your community advertise regularly on television and in newspapers, you can ask them if your organization's ads can be included in a "barter" arrangement in their media placements.

A local grocery story may be willing to put your organization's phone number on its bags or pass out information at checkout counters. Restaurants may put your information on tray inserts. Be creative.

Say "thank you"

Express your appreciation for the time that the station has taken with a thank-you note.

Track your success

Continue to stay in contact with public service managers and continue to monitor PSA placements.

Advertise on billboards and transit systems

In addition to television and print ads, local outdoor advertisers will provide free space provided your agencies pay for the cost of the artwork and installation. The same is true for transit ad. For additional information, contact your public transportation public affairs office or the community affairs offices of the local outdoor advertising company that is listed on the billboard.

This information made possible with permission of the Communications Consortium Media Center (, 1200 New York Ave., NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005; ph: 202-326-8700.

Back to PSAs.

Back to Press Events.

Environmental Media Services
1320 18th Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 463-6670

©1999 Environmental Media Services