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Column: Make PSAs Stand Out in the Crowd

In a media environment of countless social marketing messages, how do you develop one that will be remembered by your target audience and have a lasting impact on your cause?

An increasingly cluttered media environment in recent years has produced more competition for nonprofits, government agencies and others to communicate such messages. The Advertising Council has responded by focusing on areas integral to creating effective public service announcements:

• Develop the highest quality creative.

• Conduct targeted media outreach.

• Complement PSAs with public relations and integrated communications programs.

Creative. With a rich history of developing campaigns from “Loose Lips Sink Ships” to “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk,” the Ad Council has affected many national issues in the past six decades.

The organization currently develops public service communications programs for about 50 social issues ranging from foster adoption to obesity prevention. Top creatives from the advertising industry work with the Ad Council to develop the PSAs pro bono. The creative approach varies by campaign. Some ads are uplifting or comical, while others are heart wrenching and poignant.

The creative direction is based on research with the target audience conducted early in the campaign’s development. Research is a crucial element in developing creative for a social marketing campaign. It ensures a thorough understanding of the target audience, how the target views the issue and where opportunities exist to motivate and inspire behavioral/attitudinal change.

The Ad Council looks to the ad agency – clearly the advertising experts – to develop the most appropriate strategy based on the research. Most importantly, the PSAs are tested with the target audience before they are finalized in order to ensure the greatest impact. Post launch, the council conducts research to evaluate the effectiveness of each campaign in order to learn for future creative.

Creative tips:

• Do your homework: Talk with your target before you develop a strategy.

• Be single-minded: Don’t ask for too much in 30 seconds.

• Don’t lecture or patronize, as your audience will tune out.

• Entertain, when possible.

Media. With a multitude of social messages vying for attention, nonprofits need to look beyond traditional media outlets to get their messages to the public.

Technology and the proliferation of media have helped public service ads reach more people and target messages more directly. PSAs can be found on virtually all forms of media, including traditional (television, radio, outdoor, print, Internet) and nontraditional outlets (cell phones, convenience stores, taxi tops, movie theaters, elevators).

However, keep in mind that certain messages are more appropriate for specific media. For example, text messaging and Web banners may be more effective in reaching a younger audience.

In response to this increasing competition, the Ad Council changed its media model in 2004 and began seeking upfront media commitments from major media companies and increased its local outreach. This resulted in advertising time and space valued at $1.8 billion donated for its campaigns last year.

Though not all social marketing messages are aired/appear in donated media, you should evaluate your budget and identify outlets that may be committed to your issue and provide pro bono support.

Media tips:

• Partner with media outlets to secure donated media for your messages, when possible.

• Be targeted: Is the outlet appropriate for the message?

• Know your audience: Know what media outlets are looking for.

PR and integrated communications. To maximize the reach and impact of Ad Council PSAs, the group has sought to complement its advertising with integrated communications including comprehensive public relations programs; guerilla marketing; media, corporate and other partnerships; and interactive promotions.

Using tools such as text messaging, podcasting and blog relations as well as partnerships with organizations such as Students Against Destructive Decisions has extended the reach of our messages.

One recent example of integrating PR activities to extend the PSA message is the launch of the Ad Council’s “Buzzed Driving” campaign (an extension of “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”), which was introduced in December during the holiday season.

As a result of a partnership with the Television Bureau of Advertising and a comprehensive PR program, which included a localized bites and b-roll package, the campaign reached 97 percent of the country in its first week. Ad Council research conducted just weeks later showed that one in five people who viewed the PSAs had taken action to prevent someone from driving “buzzed.” This illustrates the power of public service advertising.

There is no one-size-fits-all when developing and delivering effective social messages. A final thought: Be research-based, be strategic and target your communications.

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