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Dispelling the Myths of PSAs

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

Each of those tag lines are from powerful broadcast public service announcements that were agents of change in fighting pollution, drunk driving and the war on drugs in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Public service advertising continues to be a proven force in changing public attitudes on a multitude of topics such as drinking and driving, crime prevention and numerous health and safety issues.

Give a hoot, don’t pollute. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. This is your brain on drugs.

Yet in today’s digital age, many organizations view PSAs as a digital tool, posting them only on social media and websites. This “set it and forget it” digital approach has perpetuated some myths about the effectiveness of using the traditional media channels of radio and TV to share your nonprofit’s story.

Myth #1: Broadcasters are required to air PSAs.

A PSA is a message that serves public interest. It is aired without an advertising fee and with the objective to raise awareness and change public attitudes toward a social issue. Since the 1920s, broadcasters have been charged with serving the “public interest” in order to secure and maintain their licenses. While the Federal Communications Commission does not mandate a minimum for PSA air time, they are one of the most effective ways for TV and radio broadcasters to meet their “public trustee” requirements.

Myth #2: There is no demand for PSAs.

According to Nielsen, more than 900 PSA campaigns aired a combined total of 924,270 times in April 2019 alone. With the proliferation of full-power stations, low-power stations, regional cable providers and local cable channels, commercial broadcasters have air time they need to fill and seek engaging and relevant PSA content to share with their audiences.

Myth #3: PSAs only air in the middle of the night.

PSAs air all day long. In fact, 45% – 65% of our clients’ PSAs air during morning shows, daytime talk, early evening news and prime time, empowering nonprofits to reach their core donor and supporter demographics in a cost-effective way.

Myth #4: No one watches live or time-shifted TV anymore.

Millennials might not, but donors sure do. According to Nielsen, adults 50+ watched between five and six hours of live or time-shifted TV daily in Q3 2018. This is where the core donor demographic consumes content.

Myth #5: PSAs have no measurable ROI.

An effective PSA campaign must have reporting and analytic tools in place to track and quantify key performance indicators such as airings, audience impressions and ad value. This data helps leadership and board members understand the reach and value of a PSA campaign.

Additionally, finance and accounting teams will find value in PSA results. The ad value earned from broadcasting PSAs on commercial stations is often considered an in-kind donation and improves cost of fundraising ratios. Many nonprofit PSAs are considered program expenses as they deliver on a mission. The reported value of these programming expenses could positively impact joint-cost allocations.

If your PSAs aren’t getting a lot of views online, consider a proactive TV and radio distribution strategy. Be sure to have strong reporting and analytics tools in place that provide valuation, placement and airing metrics to ensure your PSAs are as successful as possible.

For more information about how PSA Direct can help, visit

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