Summer 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW1

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TV PSA's - Making Them Effective


Betty Youngman
Extension Family Life Specialist
University of Arkansas-Little Rock

The following are hints based on my experience in developing PSA's:

  1. Choose an important topic. This usually means tying the PSA to one of the priority problems that has been identified in your state.
  2. Narrow the topic so you include only one main idea per PSA. More than one idea confuses the listener.
  3. Include in each PSA at least one reference to an Extension publication or current educational program. Publications provide additional information to clients and also give you a way to judge public response.
  4. Choose a topic you can visualize. Table 1 shows you an example. Some topics are important, but very difficult to portray on TV. Save the tough topics until you've had more experience.
  5. Don't be overly dramatic with visual aids. Attention getters are needed, but they must be carefully selected. For example, when we were filming a PSA about controlling anger, a glass-framed picture of a family was shattered on camera. This was dramatic, but not melodramatic. Staging a scene between two angry people to convey the same idea would have been more difficult to do effectively.
  6. Keep your script to a few simple statements. A 30-second PSA will typically require about 5 to 7 concise statements.
  7. Make sure the information presented in the PSA is based on up-to-date, accurate research findings and/or data. The PSA will be open to scrutiny from other agencies and universities. Try to think how these other experts will react to it.
  8. Brainstorm with your colleagues about how to portray the main PSA idea visually on camera. Fifteen minutes spent brainstorming with a communication specialist, county Extension agent, or subject-matter specialist can give you several ways to stage the PSA. You can also eliminate unworkable approaches. The brainstorming will be more successful if you start the session off by handing out a copy of your written script. Then share ways to portray the script and ask for other suggestions.
  9. After you've written and aired a successful PSA, send a note of thanks to the television station. Also tell them how many people have responded to the PSA.

Table 1. Script used for PSA.
__________Visual/sound ideas__________ __________Voice script__________
Sounds of hitting, shouting, or
arguing. (Could be made by slapping
a pillow with a stick or belt.)
Anger that's out of control can
cause you to hurt the people you love.
Photograph of a family or child
with the glass frame broken.
Anger can destroy families.
Doll with tear running down the
Young children are especially
vulnerable when parents are
angry. Abuse may be the
unexpected result.
Show the publication. If you often find yourself
absolutely furious, or out of
control with your family,
contact your county Extension
office for the fact sheet,
Dealing with Anger and Creative
, a self-study course.

What Extension Agents Can Do

The effectiveness of a PSA depends on follow-through at the county level. For example, the best PSA fails if the county agent is the last to know it's running on TV. Advance notice about PSA scheduling is a must. It's also important that a good supply of any publications mentioned in the PSA be available in the county before the air date.

County Extension agents can help get the best results from TV PSA's by:

  1. Volunteering to appear on camera.
  2. Helping find locations and props.
  3. Telling subject-matter and/or communication specialists which topics need promoting.
  4. Promoting the PSA's in the county.
  5. Visiting with television public service directors briefly about the importance of PSA topics.
  6. Sharing information with PSA writers about which PSA's were most effective at the local level.