7 Steps to Writing PSAs


By Lannie Elliott

Lannie Elliott, a former NBC radio news writer and producer and now present of a marketing firm specializing in nonprofit health care organizations, offers these tips for producing “airworthy” PSAs.


1. Understand what qualities as a PSA. Only nonprofit organizations are eligible for free air time, and the PSA must focus on service, not image. “Our nursing home is wonderful – come and see for yourself.” is an image message and ineligible, “Our nursing home is sponsoring a new clinic on Alzheimer’s disease – call for more information” meets the criteria. The “Come Home” radio campaign sponsored by the Catholic Church is an example of a paid image advertising campaign, not a PSA (PSAs should not solicit listeners for money but may ask for volunteers or participation in a program.)

If you have a question about whether the announcement you’re planning will qualify for free air time, call the public service or community affairs directory at a local station and ask. “If the answer is no, you can often rewrite the message to position it another way,” Elliott says.

2. Write for the ear. Because a radio listener can’t reread your message, be sure your PSA is clear and direct. Use short words, simple sentences and active verbs, “Write conversationally, the way people talk.” Avoid overuse of numbers or statistics, and don’t use parenthetical expressions.

3. Personalize. “Talk to the listeners, not at or around them.” PSAs including the word you – as in “If you, or someone you love . . . ” – work because they’re personal. “The most effective PSAs tug at the heartstrings.”

4. Inform listeners. Include the basic information – who, what, when, where and why. Stress vital information such as the organization’s name. Repeat it, if possible. Mention phone numbers twice – in the middle and at the end. It’s more important to be clear and complete than cute or catchy. “It’s OK to experiment and have fun with your message, to use a lighter style, But a PSA is meant to inform. Style alone won’t make a station choose yours over others.”

5. Format the script professionally. As with any radio script, PSAs should be typed in all caps and double-spaced. At the top, note the name of the organization, purpose of the message, the preferred start date, and (if applicable) the end date, Example: Start ASAP, end May 10.

“Your PSA can get lost in the shuffle, and if the dates aren’t clearly marked, it might be used at the wrong time. That makes the station and the organization look bad.” If your message is tied to a specific date, send it at least two weeks in advance, sooner for larger stations.

Some stations also require the organization’s tax-exempt number, as proof that it is a nonprofit entity.

6. Offer options. Standard PSAs are 30 seconds long – about 75 words. Also offer a 20-second script, if feasible. For complex messages requiring detailed explanation, a 60-second PSA may be accepted, “But be aware that every station won’t have time to use that much.”

7. Send a tape with your script. A recognizable voice reading your message adds impact. The reader can be a local personality (example: “This is Mayor Jackson and I’d like to tell you about…” or, if your organization can afford it, a national celebrity.)

The cost of taping a PSA can be surprisingly low. `Many local stations will produce your PSA for you if you bring a script and a reader into their studio,” Elliott says. “The only charge will be for additional copies of the tape, which you can then distribute to other stations,”

You’ll want to included a script with any tape you send – some stations have policies against using tapes produced by others.

(The above information was published by CHRISTIAN MANAGEMENT REPORT, March/April 1993)

Christian Information Report