Case History: Social Security Administration
|| ||Baseline research, compelling creative messages, aggressive promotion
and new media techniques help SSA reach their stakeholders.
To gain a better understand of public perceptions about the social security
issue, SSA launched a five-year consumer research project conducted by
the Gallup Corporation, titled: "Public Understanding Measurement
System" (PUMS). The key findings of the surveys include:
Americans have a solid understanding of the basic, general facts about
SSA benefits, but have a low level knowledge of specific SSA information.
Receipt and awareness of receiving a SSA Benefits Statement, sent by
SSA to 125 million Americans each year, significantly increases their
knowledge of the social security issue.
Among those who seek information from SSA, 84% find the information
to be useful.
On a less positive note, the PUMS data indicates a reduced level of knowledge
among several demographic groups, including those in the 30-49 age bracket,
African-Americans and Asian-Americans.
From the research, two things became clear: SSA needed to explain the
benefits statement and use that as a springboard to get the public to
seek more information about their benefits. One of the tools SSA used
to accomplish these goals was to launch a series of multi-media PSA releases
covering a variety of issues, ranging from the Supplemental Security Income
program to the benefits statement. Goodwill Communications was retained
to handle all post-production tasks for these campaigns and since our
work began for them, we have packaged, distributed and evaluated eight
national PSA campaigns. The total value of the exposure from these campaigns
– one of which is still in circulation - is just under $84 million
in advertising equivalency value.
PUMS study did not ask specifically what media the public uses to
get information about Social Security. However, the data does show
that knowledge levels about SSA are directly impacted by the receipt
of the SSA Benefit Statement and that became the topic of a television
PSA entitled "Quiz Show."
Produced by four-time Emmy award-winner, Charles Roggero, the goal
of the PSA was to let Americans know they will receive a Benefits
Statement on the anniversary of their birthday.
A set was built to emulate the "Millionaire" TV program
and the host of the program asks several questions that pertain
to Social Security benefits, only one of which is the correct answer.
Filled with special effects, the PSA puts to rest the notion that
federal government broadcast productions lack imagination or energy.
Several techniques were used to promote the "Quiz Show"
campaign to internal and external audiences.
First, the PSA was featured in CablePAK News, a newsletter
that accompanied PSAs sent to 500 leading cable systems as part
of a "shared-reel" distribution. Another newsletter
produced by Goodwill Communications called Broadcasters
Café had a feature on the PSA which was distributed
to the top 1,100 broadcast stations that regularly use PSAs.
The PSA was converted into an "E-Mail PSA" to be
sent to large institutions through their e-mail systems reaching
employees at government agencies, corporations, and schools.
The "Quiz Show" PSA was also included in a package
of PSAs pertaining to savings education distributed by another
client, the American Savings Education Council. The SSA part
of this nine- PSA package, generated nearly $700,000 in value.
We produced a banner ad jointly featuring SSA and ASEC, which
was promoted to various websites, particularly those that reach
consumers interested in financial education subjects.
Finally the PSA was also introduced at a reception held in
Washington, DC's Union Station attended by SSA national staff,
the media and important external VIPs.
Most national public service advertising campaigns overlook one
of the most important principles of PSA marketing - engaging the
local community. When the "Quiz Show" campaign was launched,
we developed a variety of initiatives to insure that all 125 local
SSA public affairs specialists, plus their supervisors in each of
the ten regional offices around the country, were aware of the campaign,
its objectives and how they could tie into national strategies.
Following are the techniques we employed to accomplish this goal:
A portal website was created for posting distribution lists
and evaluation reports with reports broken out by individual
SSA region. Using these on-line reports, local SSA outreach
staff could clearly see which media outlets were and were not
using their PSAs and they had all the contact information they
needed to make follow-up calls.
We also created a PowerPoint presentation titled: "Forging
a PSA Partnership" which was presented to the Regional
Public Affairs Directors. This presentation included evaluation
data from the most recent campaign, how the campaign was distributed
and various methods used to communicate with rank and file public
affairs specialists in each region.
explain all these procedures and how they could be used, a unique
Public Affairs Tool Kit was created and mailed to ten SSA Regional
Communications Directors, as well as125 SSA Public Affairs Specialists
around the country. The purpose of the kit was to provide samples
of all media materials distributed in their locale, inform them
about the website, and how to access media reports posted to
Many people who are not familiar with public service advertising think
that to get PSAs aired, all you have to do is apply a set of TV station
labels to a package and send it to stations. However, due to the intense
competition for scarce time at stations, it is much more complicated than
The SSA "Quiz Show" PSA distribution plan covered all 212
top TV markets, using five different distribution channels to reach the
nation's leading broadcast and cable television outlets.The highest priority
for targeting were the stations that had used SSA PSAs previously using
our Previous Usage Index we maintain for all media outlets. Next we selected
stations that used other PSAs dealing with personal finance. We then added
Hispanic outlets, all broadcast station users and 30 cable networks. We
also distributed the PSA via the National Association of Broadcasters’
closed circuit feed to member stations.
The "Quiz Show" TV PSAs were uniquely coded so that each execution
could be tracked using the A.C Nielsen SIGMA electronic monitoring system.
The service tracks PSAs on all broadcast stations in all 212 U.S. Designated
Market Areas (DMAs), 24 hours a day, all year long. The following table
shows the overall value for the "Quiz Show" PSA along with other
key indicators of usage:
|Usage by Daypart
One of the biggest misperceptions
about PSAs is that most people think they air in the middle of the
night when no one is watching. As this graph shows, that clearly
is not the case and in both the last two SSA TV PSAs, the majority
of PSAs aired during the best dayparts from the last half of the
Early Morning time frame to the first part of the Late Night daypart.
These usage patterns are way above the norm.
Usage by Length
The other common misperception about PSAs is that only the shorter
length spots get used. As this graph shows, 41% of all exposure
was generated by the 60-second PSA. This shows the importance of
having a mixture of different lengths to give stations some flexibility
in scheduling. Having longer spot lengths also gives the producer
more time to register key copy points and the call to action. There
is minimal additional cost in adding various spot lengths to the
package since there is up to five minutes in capacity available
for use for the same cost.
Usage by Top Markets
Nearly two-thirds of all SSA TV PSA usage occurred in the top 100
markets, which is where 86% of all U.S. TV households are located.
While media markets tend to be disparate, this graph shows a very
significant differential between SSA Regions where TV PSAs were
used. We plotted the data for TV because the SIGMA data is so much
more accurate than that received from other sources and it accounts
for the majority of overall exposure. The ability to report out
data by SSA field offices provides an action plan for where additional
exposure is needed.
This graph is an example of "actionable" evaluation data
that can make a very significant difference in the ultimate usage
and impact of any PSA campaign. The evaluator can provide all the
necessary data to help sound decision-making.
As shown here, of the 473 TV stations that have never
used a SSA TV PSA, nearly a quarter of them have used other PSAs
more than 25 times. These stations are prime candidates
for contact by local SSA public affairs staff and we have provided
them with all the tolls to get the job done.
Another successful distribution technique employed for Social Security
is a "shared-reel" distribution program called CablePAK.
It was distributed to 500 major cable systems with 15,000 or more
While broadcast and cable TV provided more generalized information,
SSA used radio and print to reach minority audiences with more discrete
messages. SSA radio PSAs were distributed to 6,500 radio stations
using a very colorful, high-impact packaging concept called the
Radio DiskPac It consists of a CD with the PSAs in various length
and formats, script booklet, with a letter to the public service
director, live announcer copy, and facts on Social Security. Print
PSAs were also distributed to leading newspapers and magazines to
reach more targeted audiences.
It is every marketer's dream to reach the next generation. If you
study commercial advertising, you soon learn that marketers aren't
nearly as interested in yesterday's consumers as they are in those
that will purchase their goods and services tomorrow. While the
Social Security issue may be of greater interest to seniors who
draw benefits from the system, increasingly younger workers are
getting interested in the issue as well, because they are paying
for the benefits that their older cohorts are receiving. For this
reason and others, it is becoming more important to develop outreach
strategies to reach younger workers, and one of those that has been
successfully tested is theater advertising.
number of people going to the movies today is staggering and according
to National Cinema Network (NCN), theater attendance now tops 1.5
billion admissions. This potential audience is more than six times
the number of people who will attend all professional baseball,
football, basketball and hockey games combined. Another advantage
of theater advertising is that it provides a captive audience. There
is no zipping, zapping, channel surfing - just eyeballs staring
at a screen giving it their undivided attention and an incredible
62% recall according to A.C. Nielsen, which is nearly three times
greater than 'day after' TV recall data.
And finally, of special importance to Social Security, audiences
skew younger. Some 70 percent of all movie attendees are in the
18-49 years age bracket and 91 percent of teens indicate that going
to the movies is their favorite activity, according to the NCN.
To make theater PSAs both effective and appropriate for the venue,
it is very important to have messages that themselves have entertainment
value. That is what made the SSA "Quiz Show" of particular
importance, because it had an entertainment theme.
To test the efficacy of theater advertising, the "Quiz Show"
was shown in five communities in the Washington, DC metropolitan
area and recall research was conducted by Low & Associates,
a consulting firm specializing in market research. A total of 322
intercept surveys of moviegoers were conducted before the PSA was
shown in theaters to assess baseline knowledge of key SSA copy points
delivered in the PSA.
Then, on the last three days of a 28-day PSA run, 310 interviews
were completed to determine SSA knowledge of those same copy points.
Of greatest importance to Social Security, the percentage of moviegoers
with correct responses to the five true/false survey statements
increased from 47% before showing the PSA to 73% after exposure,
a statistically significant improvement of 26 percent.
In our tenure of working with the Social Security
Administration, we have generated just under $84 million in verified
In terms of the scope of the program, as well as the outstanding
results that have been achieved over time, there is no question
that PSAs have had a very significant impact on the ability of the
Social Security Administration to reach its key audiences. While
it is impossible to eliminate all non-PSA communications messages
to determine the true impact of PSAs alone, suffice it to say that
PSAs have unquestionably contributed to the nearly 60% of the American
public which is "currently knowledgeable about SSA programs."