By Bill Goodwill
“The Broadcast Age began about 75 years ago when KDKA, America’s first commercial radio
station signed on in Pittsburgh, PA.,” says Rick Ducey, Senior V.P. for Research at the
National Association of Broadcasters. “This created a whole new experience for the
audience which began relating to people on radio as trusted friends,” he observes.
According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, Americans spend 22 percent of their time
listening to the radio, listenening from 14 hours to over 21 hours every week,
depending upon their age. Its portability, coupled with its ability to segment
listeners by their program tastes, has contributed to its long standing popularity.
There are nearly 13,000 AM and FM radio stations in the U.S., with about two-thirds
of the non-duplicating stations (where AM and FM do not use the same programming) regularly
using public service announcements. However, before mailing PSAs to stations, there are
a variety of details you should consider when preparing your campaign plan.
Some of these include:
- Establishing a budget for getting your radio PSA package produced,
designed, replicated and mailed.
- Deciding how you intend to produce your PSAs - whether you will
hire an independent producer, having them produced by your advertising
agency, or producing them internally.
- Selecting an experienced radio PSA distributor. They should present
a plan to target stations that reach your primary and secondary target
audiences; show samples of packaging that will attract the attention
of public service directors; develop a timeline for getting various
packaging elements designed, printed and mailed and discuss how they
intend to evaluate campaign impact.
Establishing a Budget/Creative Considerations
Your radio budget will depend largely upon who your producer is, the talent you use (famous
names obviously cost more unless you can get them to do it pro-bono), and whether you use
orignial or library music. However, there are a few guidelines you can use to determine
how much money you need to allocate for a professionally executed radio PSA campaign.
“Since radio is not a visual medium, it is important to put a lot of thought into the
creative message,” points out Roger Vilsack, an award-winning producer with more than
25 years experience in the medium. “Your radio production must be even better and
more creative than television,because you don’t have visual images. That means you have
to create them with words and sound effects,” Vilsack says.
While a lift of TV sometimes works, “a good TV spot shouldn’t work in radio,”
Vilsack points out, although upon occasion a TV lift can be used for radio. He also
advises to get the very best talent possible for your radio production “because your
radio spot is going to depend upon people who don’t just read the copy, but who can
act it out.” Vilsack advises selecting talent from the major markets, especially
New York, where there is a big pool of trained talent available.
Vilsack recommends budgeting from $4,500-$20,000 for the radio production,
depending upon the number of voices, music, and sound effects. Creative
fees for direction, script writing and talent selection will cost another
$2,500 - $5,000. "There is also an excellent book called
Radio Production available from Google Books that producers should read," Vilsack says,
particularly the chapter entitled "Writing for the Ear."
Audio Production Tips
Bruce Dowdy, who has extensive radio operations experience, provides some
helpful guidelines for producing and labeling the audio master. "Make it
easy for the radio engineer to schedule your PSAs, and you stand a much
better chance of getting on the air," Dowdy says.
- Send both CD-audio files as well as Enhanced CDs. These include
the CD-Audio tracks along with CD-ROM/MP3 files for those stations
which would prefer to use this computer-friendly format. That way,
it’s easy for any station to play your PSAs.
- When dealing with union talent, get an unlimited usage buyout so
no matter when the PSAs air, you are protected. Or, alternatively,
put a kill date on all your radio PSA packaging that tells stations
when your PSAs should be pulled. By doing that, you have done your
due diligence in terms of adhering to union regulations.
- When you create MP3 files, try to give them helpful, descriptive
file names - such as: OurOrg_5kWalk_Country_30.MP3 Use a sampling
frequency of 44.1kHz with a bit rate of at least 128 kb/sec, or stations
may find the quality unacceptable. 192 or 390 kb/sec is even better
– especially if your message contains music.
One of the most frequently asked questions regarding radio PSAs pertains to
the lengths that should be produced. As with all PSA material, the more
flexibility you can offer the media, the greater chance of getting your
PSAs aired. Try to offer at least three different lengths - :15, :30
and :60. Also think about producing messages for different audiences, i.e.
Middle-of-the-Road, Country & Western, African-American and Spanish. The
more that your radio PSAs match the program format of the station, the
better chance they will be used.
The next decision you need to make is the type of radio packaging you
want to use to send materials to stations. There used to be a variety of
options, but with the U.S. Postal Service's automated handling equipment,
any packages that do not conform to their requirements will cost significantly
more to mail. Accordingly, most distributors use fairly standard radio
packages such as the Flex Mailer shown here. It permits a limited
amount of space for promotional copy, but is lightweight and functional.
The Flex Mailer has a four-color cover and measures 5x7" folded. Inside, the letter to
public service director goes on the left panel and there is a slot on the right
panel to hold the CD and the evaluation response card. They are then shrink-
wrapped to secure the packaging during mailing. To see design templates for various
radio elements, go to
Radio Packaging Specs
Tips to Reduce Costs
Since you can place up to an hour’s worth of programming on a CD, you
should try to use as much of the capacity as possible. Following are
some tips to think about:
Put all different types of PSAs on a single CD, even though they are aimed at different audiences.
You may want to do separate separate PSAs for Spanish and African-American audiences, since they are distinctly
different. However, if you do Spanish PSAs, it is not necessary to do a separate Spanish package. Just
make sure you use a translator who speaks mainstream Spanish, and use Spanish titles and photography on
Another idea is to put two to five minute audio pieces - often referred to as ANRs (Audio News Releases)
on the CD. You are going to pay the same amount of money to produce and distribute the package, so the more
value you can create from it, the better it will serve your interests.
If you are really on a tight budget, another way to reduce costs is
to consider using a “shared-disk” distribution service. We call ours
Radio DiskPAK and by ganging up several different client PSAs on a single
disk we can reduce costs by more than half.
Materials To Supply
Irregardless of the packaging concept, there are several different
things you need to provide your distributor. First, if you are providing
camera ready artwork then you need to provide art for all collateral
pieces on a disk with all native files including fonts, art and a
printout of the artwork. You should check with your distributor to
see what types of art files are acceptable by the vendor doing the
packaging and replication. If your distributor is producing the artwork,
you will need to provide:
- Copy for letter to public service director on your organization's
- Logo with color breaks and PMS colors for logo
- Signature of person signing letter in black ink (felt tip pen
- Copy for facts on client issue or organization (preferably a Word document file)
The Distribution Plan
Unlike television, which is a general interest medium, radio programming
is aimed at listeners with particular interests, making it easy to
segment stations by ethnicity, age, educational level and lifestyle.
The list below includes the major radio program formats and the approximate
number of stations in each format:
||Teens to 40's
|Beautiful Music/Big Band
||All ages/lifestyles/skews rural
|Educational (high school/college)
||All ages; Gospel skews Black
The number of stations you should target is influenced by a number
of factors, including your target audience, budget, demographic considerations
and previous usage practices of the station. Our typical distribution
plan is 3,500 stations, but the effective reach of this plan is over
5,000 because there are more than 1,500 stations that are AM/FM simulcast
stations with the same programming. These stations want only one PSA which
they share with their sister stations. These stations are all previous PSA users and
provides coverage across markets and program formats.
Given a limited budget, you must make some hard choices in terms
of what stations to target and why. After budget, we believe the next
important factor to consider are the stations that regularly use PSAs.
We maintain something called the Previous User Index (PUI) for every
radio station in our database, which is very useful when targeting
subsets of the total radio universe.
Another factor to consider in developing the distribution plan is
to include those stations that may be important to your local community
partners. Stations, for example, that support local non-profit charity
events, those that have done live remotes for a special occasion,
or those that have provided news coverage should all be targeted.
Localizing Radio PSAs
There is still one more subject you should address when planning
your radio production - whether to localize your PSAs. There are several
different ways to localize radio PSAs including:
- Providing live announcer scripts for the on-air personality to
read with local phone numbers and contact information
- Providing a “donut” with “holes” for stations to insert localized
information recorded by their own personalities or announcers
- Providing stations a fully produced localized version with VO
of the local tag already inserted on the CD.
It is vitally important to evaluate the impact of your radio PSA
for several reasons:
- It will help your distributor target the stations to receive your
next PSA, based on those that used your previous campaign
- It helps your distributor update their data base of radio station
PSA decision-makers and station PSA preferences
- It serves as feedback on where your PSAs are getting used (geographically),
as well as what types of audiences you are reaching by analyzing
the station formats where PSAs were aired
- It helps justify the cost for producing and distributing subsequent
campaigns because management will be able to see in specific terms
what they received in return for their investment
While there are electronic tracking services to provide usage data on
radio PSAs, none of them at this time provide universal coverage of all
stations, thus the most commonly used technique is still the buseinees
reply (BRC) card. The BRC is inserted into the package with other materials mailed to
stations and should include a postage-paid indicia on the reverse
to maximize response rates.
The quality and response that you get will largely be determined
by how well the BRC is designed. Open ended questions where stations
can provide subjective, or vague feedback, should be avoided, because
the evaluator must interpret what stations mean by "TFN" (Till Further
Notice), "ROS" (Run of Station) and other meaningless comments.
To obtain accurate and meaningful usage data, we design questions
that ask stations to provide very specific usage data. The critical
questions to include: what spot length was used; how often
(number of times per week; and what time frame (number of weeks).
To make it easy for stations to complete the BRC, we use a design
where stations can simply circle frequency and duration of usage.
In addition to usage data, other information that should be on your
response card includes spaces for providing the name of public service
director, station call letters and format of the station
We often are asked how did our PSA compare to others you handle?
To answer the question, we have provided a benchmark radio campaign
to which all others can be measured. The benchmark results from 43
radio campaigns we distributed over several years. The above chart
shows typical dollar values of the benchmark compared to all campaigns
distributed on behalf of federal agencies and national not profit
Given the fact that the average number of airplays for the three
campaigns above is 95,244 and the average value for the two differnt
types of campaigns is $851,000 in free airtime, that is a fantastic
return on an investment of $40,000 in production and distribution.
Your evaluation reports should provide the standard type of feedback
on usage, i.e. name of station, format, number of plays by spot length,
estimated dollar value and gross impressions with a user friendly
recap of these statistics. If you have local offices, it is also useful
to have your evaluation reports sorted by those offices so you can
see where your coverage is strongest and weakest. We use an interactive
map such as the one shown to provide a snapshot of PSA attainment
using various color-coded ranges. When the user places their cursor
over a state, the software shows key stats on PSA usage for that state.
New Evaluation Methods
To supplement bounce-back cards which everyone admits are not as
accurate as electronic tracking, there are a few new monitoring services
available that can be used to track your radio PSA exposure. We
have successfully tested one called MediaGuide and in our tests, electronic
tracking has contributed 40% more exposure than when only bounce-back
cards are used. However, since there is no electronic service that
can track PSA usage on all U.S. radio stations, it is important to
use both monitoring methods.
Our many years of evaluating radio PSA campaigns indicates there
is a very substantial amount of radio exposure that occurs for all
PSA campaigns that typically goes unreported unless you take some
type of follow-up action.
While the vast majority of radio stations to which your PSA is sent
will not respond, that does not mean they are
No matter how simple you make it for stations to respond, there will
be a fairly consistent number - about 30% - that use, but do not respond
to a PSA mailing. To try and capture some of this usage, we often
employ reminder postcards. Designed as a two-part postcard, this device
typically includes a short note to the public service director, and
a response card that is identical to the one sent with the original
package. These cards can generate significant increases in reported
usage rates and exposure levels as shown in the graph.
To summarize, radio PSAs can be one of the most cost-effective mass
communications techniques you can employ to get your message out to
both general audiences and discrete populations.
Radio PSAs offer flexibility; they permit you to reach audiences
out-of-home; they are comparatively inexpensive; and they provide
a good return on investment. However, to maximize your return, like
any other mass communications tool, you should develop great messages
to create theater of the mind, package them in an imaginative way and
evaluate their impact.
Bill Goodwill is CEO of Goodwill Communications, a Virginia-based
company that specializes in PSA distribution and evaluation. His firm
has distributed more than 400 national radio PSA campaigns.
Updated April 2011