Creating a Public Service Announcement (PSA)

What is a PSA?

A Public Service Announcement (PSA) is a form of communication used by non-profit organizations, grassroots movements, and government/military divisions to campaign for social change or educate the public about resolving specific issues. Typically, a PSA is not directed towards policy change, but instead brings awareness and suggestions for action.

Examples of PSA causes include anti-drug abuse campaigns, drunk driving, increasing literacy, financial fraud awareness, hygiene, Autism awareness, wildlife protection, or local outreach programs and events that support causes. The PSA message does not need to be complicated; in fact, a clear and concise message is more likely to influence the target audience.

Steps to Creation

Idea Generation

Although the communication message may not be complicated, there are several steps in creating an effective PSA.

As with most writing processes, creating a PSA begins by brainstorming ideas. In this case, the brainstorming should focus on the identification of a specific problem or need within a community. For a course project, you may want to focus on concerns related to your field of study. If you are a supporter of a non-profit organization, you can create a PSA to focus on one issue for an identified audience. Keep in mind, though, publication of the PSA for an organization will need the organization’s approval. If you don’t have an organization in mind and your field of study does not yield ideas, then take a more personal look at situations you encounter where individuals would benefit from an educational and motivational PSA. Consider the following questions to help generate ideas:

  • What situations in your life would have benefitted from education or motivation about the topic? Consider friends and family members that you may have mentored (or wanted to mentor) through a situation.
  • What PSAs have you seen that have not been effective? How might you approach the topic from a more effective perspective?
  • Identify a group of people who may feel isolated due to their situation/problem. How might you use a PSA to reach out to them and help them realize they are not alone?

Ultimately, the brainstorming should lead to a message or objective of the PSA—what you want the audience to walk away with.

Audience: Decide the Target Audience

After identifying a problem or need, the next step is identifying the characteristics of the target audience. It’s important to realize that, although you may want to see everyone adopt this change or be educated on this topic, the PSA needs to be designed for a specific audience in order to be effective. For example, a PSA about high school dropout prevention seemingly has a large audience since entire communities are affected by dropout rates, yet the PSA needs to motivate high school students to see the benefits of completing their education. In this example, parents and teachers may also influence a student’s decision to stay in school, but a separate PSA would need to be created for the adult audience and their role in the situation. When considering an audience, it may help to answer the following questions:

  • What is the age range of the target audience?
  • How might you describe their social and financial status?
  • What is their connection to the topic?
  • What might they already know about the topic, including assumptions and misinformation?
  • What is a reasonable action the audience can take in response to the PSA?
  • What might their attitude be towards the content of the PSA?
  • Would humor or a light-hearted approach offend or engage the audience?
  • What media will be the most accessible for the audience?
  • The responses to these questions will then influence your decisions on tone, design, content, and media (e.g., audio or video) for the PSA.

Media Options

Media options range from simple to complex; even if you are not comfortable with some technologies, there are options for creating an effective PSA for a course project or to use in your community.

Radio – You may want to air your PSA on the radio. You can either record your own audio clip or provide the radio station with a specific script for it to be read on the air.

PowerPoint – Create a slide presentation (e.g., Microsoft’s PowerPoint software); these slides can be converted to a video with use of other software.

Video – A more extensive PSA might rely on a digital recorder capturing actors (or friends/family) conveying a scripted scene. Editing the video can be done with software from the Internet.

Print – Coordinating printed documents, such as posters, brochures, or even billboards may be designed.

Social Media – Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter may be used to share the final products.

Although audience needs dictate which media option you choose, you also need to consider factors such as time to produce the PSA, your technical abilities, project requirements if it is for a course, and copyright issues with content you did not specifically create for the PSA.

Slogan

No matter the media type you choose for your PSA, it is important to create a slogan and script content. You must also create or obtain relevant visuals. Creating a slogan or catchy phrase will help the PSA become memorable, and potentially influence action by the audience. The slogan should be

  • one sentence or phrase,
  • original,
  • age appropriate for the audience.

The slogan should be connected to the main message and action the PSA is advocating. Focus on precise word choice to keep the slogan concise. Rhyming or alliteration (the repetition of consonant sounds) may be used as long as the slogan doesn’t take a childish tone if the audience is adults. Another option is modifying clichés to be relevant to the topic and thought provoking.

Here are examples of original slogans that might be used in a PSA or as the title of a PSA:

  • “Drunk Driving is Dumb Driving”
  • “Texting while driving spells DANGER”
  • “Live Right—Eat Light!”
  • “Accept Autism”
  • “Want to succeed? Read!”
  • “Cover your Cough”

Please note that these examples should not be used in your own project; take an original approach to the topic and PSA slogan.

Content

Research The slogan is only one piece of the PSA’s message; the content of the PSA is what will add context and significance to the slogan. As noted earlier, a script should be written for the PSA, whether it is produced as an audio or video clip.

Prior to writing the script, however, it’s important to gather relevant research to support the PSA’s message.

Relevant research is generally in the form of statistics and can be found in government documents or peer-reviewed periodical articles that reflect research studies. Purdue Global’s Library provides students access to reliable periodicals while http://www.usa.gov allows you to link to government agencies, and Pew Research Center (http://www.pewresearch.org) collects results of surveys and studies related to social issues and public opinion.

Make sure that your research is current so that it is still relevant to the audience; try to focus on research that is less than five years old, unless presenting older research to set a historical context of how the topic has changed.

Personal experiences are generally not considered appropriate research for a PSA. Appropriate credit always needs to be given to the source; APA citations are generally required for Purdue Global course projects.

It may also be necessary to find graphics in order to enhance the visual appeal of video or printed PSAs. Ideally, creating your own graphics will avoid issues with copyright infringement, so consider using your digital camera and own creativity rather than copying graphics from the Internet.

Graphics

Selected graphics should have the following characteristics:

  • Related to the PSA’s message. The audience should not struggle to interpret the connection or significance of the graphic. This characteristic is vital for posters, where perhaps only the slogan and contact information are associated with the graphic.
  • Audience appropriate. Emotionally evocative graphics should be appropriate for the audience; if the video is going to be televised, then the graphics need to be appropriate for the audience who is most likely to see the PSA, even if they are not the PSA’s target audience. Avoid nudity or violence.
  • Visually clear. The graphic should be sized appropriately and not blurry. Also, consider whether the audience might be visually impaired, such as partial blindness or color blindness.
  • Cited. If the graphic is from a source, then it must be clear that you are not the original author of the graphic. PSAs that will be distributed on the Internet may further require copyright permissions in order to use graphics in a public (non-academic) forum.

Script Writing

After gathering relevant research and graphics, the script writing process can begin. The content of the PSA will advocate a specific action/response by the audience. Remember, it is important, to keep the goal of the PSA reasonable for the target audience. The script should detail what is said and displayed in a video PSA; an audio-only PSA will only need to provide the content to be read aloud.

For a PSA that will be aired on the radio, the script is one paragraph long and written just as it should be read aloud. It’s important to know how long the radio station will allow for your PSA so that the paragraph does not go too long or stop short. Begin the paragraph with a sentence that hooks the audience yet clearly relates to the PSA message. From there, use one or two sentences of research to add concrete value to the PSA. Follow those sentences with an explanation of the significance of the research. Then present the slogan.

The PSA should end with contact information; if the PSA is promoting a specific event, the time and place of the event should be provided before the contact information. It is important to revise the radio version of the PSA to have accurate and concise word choice. The reader should not stumble through the text, while the audience should not get lost in a convoluted message.

When writing a script for a slide presentation (e.g., Microsoft PowerPoint), it is important to have well written text and relevant graphics. If you intend to add audio to each slide, then the narration for each slide should be noted in the script. Consider using brief phrases or one- sentence long quotes on the slide, so that it’s easy for the audience to read or hear.

The key to an effective slide presentation is finding the balance between providing enough information to engage and educate the audience without overwhelming them.

Although slide presentations can be any length, consider keeping the PSA to a length that takes no longer than two minutes to review. Most PSAs are commercial length or 30 seconds to one-minute. Be sure to review the course’s project requirements for PSA length.

A script for a video, where individuals are acting out a scene, is more complex than the other two versions of PSA writing. The script needs to incorporate several elements: actor direction, actor dialogue, and setting/visuals. When designing your PSA, you may consider not having actor dialogue if the audio equipment is not ideal for recording voices; rather, use a voice-over narration to focus on the message of the PSA, while the actors play out the relevant scene. For example, a PSA on the value of a healthy breakfast may have an adult simply drinking coffee in one scene and then sleeping at her office desk in the next scene. As with the slide presentation, the video should not exceed two-minutes in length, unless dictated by the course’s project requirements.

PSA Key Elements

No matter what form the PSA takes, it should have the following characteristics when it is completed:

Clear and concise message. Even if the PSA is two minutes long, the message needs to be clear to the audience from the very beginning and reinforced by the slogan at the end. Balance between text and graphics. When creating a visual PSA, be sure the message is not overshadowed by design features, animations, or other visual elements; visuals should serve to highlight any text or audio components. Cited research and graphics. Most Purdue Global courses required APA format to cite research. You can incorporate the source information into the text of the sentence in a PSA; for example, ―According to a 2012 report by the National Sleep Deprivation Institution, 4 out of five students do not get enough sleep.

Distribution

If you intend to share your PSA with your community, the Internet provides several options. YouTube allows you to post videos without charge, although copyrighted material cannot be posted. From here you can post a link to the video to help promote it to the community. The video link can be posted to a Facebook or Twitter account, or it can be included in a blog post or email.

If the PSA is going to be promoted by printed materials (e.g., noted in a newsletter or brochure), then the YouTube URL can be written out for the audience to access on their own.

Radio stations often meet the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements to provide service to the radio station’s community by airing PSAs without charge. Be sure to contact a radio station that is most likely to reach your target audience; also, it’ll be important to know format preference and restrictions dictated by the radio station before you begin writing the PSA. Radio stations are likely to only select PSAs that are well-written and clearly relate to their audience’s needs.

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