ABCs of Audio PSAs

20 10 2011

Audio PSAs (public service announcements) are the nonprofit equivalent of commercials. They are either scripts you’ve written for radio announcers to read over the air, or audio recordings you’ve made for radio staff to play over the air.

The radio stations don’t charge you when they read or play your PSA. It’s free advertising for your program, event, or organization. Radio’s still popular, so it’s an opportunity for publicity that shouldn’t be ignored.

If you want to create a PSA, there are a few things to consider:

  • Radio stations need lead time to get the PSAs into the rotation. If your PSA is associated with a specific date—say you’re hosting a flu clinic on a certain Saturday—get the recording or script to the station three to six weeks prior to that date.
  • PSAs usually come in three lengths: 15 seconds, 30 seconds, and 60 seconds. Don’t limit your PSAs to one type, but offer versions in all three lengths if possible. After the announcer runs the paid ads and the music, any small clumps of seconds they have in between or left over go to PSAs.
  • Local groups approaching local stations with community activities have the best chance of getting their PSAs into the mix. Even if the PSA has no mention of local events, your pitch and the letter accompanying the PSA can tie it to a local angle, allowing you to use a more generic PSA that’s been professionally produced.
  • Assigning a person to make follow-up calls to the station a few days after delivery helps catch the attention of the decision-maker. Reiterate the importance of the PSA message and emphasize the local connection or need.
  • Record or script your PSA in multiple languages. Make sure these versions are culturally appropriate and not just translations. Choose the languages based on the demographics of your area.

The nuts and bolts

Let’s assume you don’t have the funds to hire outside help to record your PSA. You’ll need:

  • A computer
  • A quality microphone you can plug into your computer (via USB or 1/8” jack)
  • “Talent” with a clear and pleasant voice
  • A script
  • Sound editing software
  • Background music for an added touch
  • A stopwatch

You’ll need to find software that will capture your recording and allow you to edit that recording. Audacity is a free and popular software, and there are many other free programs available through the Internet.

Write the script, read it, and time it. You want it to be exactly :15, :30, and/or :60 seconds. Whomever you choose to be the “talent” (the person reading into the mic) will be the one you want to time, if possible. Each person reading it may read it at a different speed, so if you’re the writer but not the reader, timing yourself will get you close, but may not be accurate.

Once the recording is done, you will need to edit it as you see fit. The specifications (specs) that one PSA distributor gives for radio PSAs are:

  • Redbook Audio (this refers to the CD you use for distribution)
  • No lead-ins or countdowns (you don’t have to say anything leading up to the actual recording)
  • Each PSA should be a separate cut on CD master (make them separate files on the CD)
  • Audio to stay within specified lengths
  • Preferred order –  :60, :30, :20, :15, :10 (This distributor added in :20 and :10, which you may do if you like. You never know what length they need to fit in a space on their programs.)
  • No compression
  • 44.1 khz
  • 16 bit

If you plan on working at a local level to produce and distribute audio PSAs, it’s best to visit the local radio station(s) and ask for direction on how they like to receive their PSAs. Many times they’ll have a sheet printed up with all the information you’ll need. In addition to getting the specs, the visit will give you an opportunity to make your cause known to the station staff. Establishing a good relationship with them will get your PSAs played (or read) more often.


We suggest you start out by writing a couple of paragraphs and see how much information you can include. Have someone read it while timing them. That will let you know if you need to edit out words or if you have room to add in information.

It’s easier, when writing the scripts, to start with the :60 and work your way down. That way, you start with the “fat” in the piece and can edit it out for each of the shorter versions.

SAMPLE: Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign

(Radio PSA Cover Letter—copy onto your letterhead)


Dear (Public Service Director Name):

Influenza is an ancient disease that still circles the globe each year. We ask you to please have your announcers read frequently the enclosed PSAs. Here’s why:  Every year in the United States, on average:

5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications; and

About 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each year.

(Your organization’s name) urges you to use your broadcasting power to alert your listeners to the need for influenza vaccination. You will save lives, prevent tragedy, and truly provide a public service!  Thank you.


(Your name and org name)

(Include radio scripts on a separate sheet)

(Copy the PSA scripts onto your org’s letterhead)

Sample Radio Psa Script

Radio Public Service Announcement
(:60-:30-:15- seconds)


Live copy (announcer):

It’s flu season and everyone from newborns and schoolkids to parents and seniors is at risk.

Every year, up to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people in the United States end up in the hospital. About 36,000 people die each year from influenza.

There’s a lot you can do to stop the flu before it starts.

Just follow these simple steps to help you stay healthy this season:

Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, stay home if you’re sick, and check with your doctor about getting vaccinated.

For more information, visit w-w-w-dot-p-k-i-d-s-dot-o-r-g or call 1-877-557-5437. That’s w-w-w-dot-p-k-i-d-s-dot-o-r-g, or call 1-877-557-5437.

A public service message brought to you by (insert org name) and PKIDs’ Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign.


Live copy (announcer):

It’s flu season and everyone from newborns and schoolkids to parents and seniors is at risk.

Every year, up to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 end up in the hospital, or die from influenza.

Prevent the spread of flu by washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, staying home if you’re sick, and checking with your doctor about getting vaccinated.

For more information, visit w-w-w-dot-p-k-i-d-s-dot-o-r-g.

A public service message brought to you by (insert org name) and PKIDs’ Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign.


Live copy (announcer):

It’s flu season and we’re all at risk of infection.

Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, stay home if you’re sick and check with your doctor about getting vaccinated.

For more information, visit w-w-w-dot-p-k-i-d-s-dot-o-r-g.

A public service message brought to you by (insert org name) and PKIDs’ Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign.


And that’s it! If you have some PSA scripts you’d be willing to share, please paste them into the comments.

Adapted from PKIDs’ Communications Made Easy program.

Videos on the Cheap!

6 10 2011

Videos entertain, document, educate, and illustrate. They have many purposes.

The majority of health departments and immunization coalitions will make short PSA (public service announcement) videos to inform the community about such things as a new ACIP recommendation or an upcoming flu clinic.

These same groups may also make videos to educate the public about the services they provide to the community, or to complement a fundraising campaign.

Whatever the reason for making a video, nine times out of 10, nonprofits and health departments won’t have enough money in the budget for video production.

The good news is that even if your group doesn’t have $500,000 for a five minute video (that’s right, $100,000/minute for a higher-end video), you can still produce a decent video with a little luck and creativity.

Getting Started

The first step is hiring someone to produce your video. Rather than hiring a PR firm, consider hiring a freelance producer/videographer. Their prices are almost always far below a PR firm’s prices.

Check through local universities that offer film studies—one of the professors or even a skilled student may do freelance work. You may be able to find a class that could produce your video as a class project. Or call the local TV stations and ask if any of their videographers, cameramen, or videojournalists do freelance work on the side. Try broadcastvideo and search for your state—you’ll find several freelancers wanting work.

When you find the person who can shoot your video, you will want to sign a contract with the individual or group representative. Make sure that they are willing to produce the video in addition to shooting it.

There are many sample contracts online for sale and for free, and the videographer may have a standard contract she uses. Your local office supply store may also have a production contract. Just make sure that the contract is clear about what the final product will be, when it will be delivered, the format, and the quantity. You and your videographer will then review and sign the contract.

Confirm that the producer/videographer will be responsible for all post-production, or at least be responsible for finding, hiring, and overseeing capable people so that you are delivered a finished product ready for use.


Deliverables: The contract should include deliverables (i.e. the different videos that will be produced) and the date by which they are to be completed. Even if you are only making one video, you may want to produce :15-, :30-, and :60-second versions of the video for use as PSAs. Those should be listed in the contract. The following are issues you want to address that may or may not be listed under deliverables:

Aspect Ratio: You should specify whether the videos will be in standard (4:3) or widescreen (16:9). Widescreen videos tends to have a more modern feel, and video sharing websites like YouTube now support it.

Quality: Will your videographer film the video in standard definition or high definition? High definition may not be available (yet) on a budget because the cameras can cost more to own. If it’s not available, don’t worry: HDTVs are able to display standard definition video.

Formats: You should specify the formats in which you’ll want to receive your video. For broadcast formats (i.e. formats that can be shown on TV), you’ll want to contact the stations you want the video to air on and ask what format they prefer, such as Beta-SP videotapes or Quicktime (broadcast quality).

It’s also a good idea to ask for videos in smaller formats for the Web. Be aware that, in order to speed download time, file compression will take place and some quality will be lost in the process. Some popular formats are:

  • Flash video (FLV) will play in almost all browsers if you put the video file inside a Flash player such as Flowplayer
  • Windows Media Video (WMV)
  • QuickTime

A nice size (as measured in pixels) for widescreen standard definition web video is 640 x 360.


The next step is to formulate the story. Although you will have message or talking points you want to insert into the video, your video should not be limited to them. You want your video to be a story that interests people and keeps them with you to the end—to inspire them to take action by getting a flu shot, taking their parents in for a shingles vaccination, or donating money or time to your cause, for example.

You will need to script some sort of story so that your videographer knows what you’re looking for. The videographer will create a storyboard for his or her own use, but you’ll want to go over both ways of storytelling together before shooting begins.

Don’t worry too much about the script. Just write down your talking or message points in the context of how you’d like them told. For instance, describe a person sitting in a chair against a black backdrop telling her story, and in that storytelling, she hits on specific message points.

Once you have that confirmed, you can either let the videographer take over and make suggestions, or you can contribute additional, specific ideas you have for presenting the story. Either way, you and the videographer will work together to come up with a creative vision for the video.

The more location shots you have, the more time it will take and the more expensive it will be. You want your video to be more than a person talking into a camera, so think about using copyright-free or royalty-free images or video clips from online vendors, such as or pond5.

Next comes casting. If the people in the video are not professional actors, then you’ll need to media train and rehearse them so that they appear relaxed in front of the camera and know their messages.

If the cast is inexperienced, you don’t want them to learn a script word-for-word. Their delivery will be more natural without memorization of a script. An example of talking points you might provide them are:

  • On average, 36,000 individuals die annually from influenza-related causes and over 200,000 are hospitalized.
  • Every year, five to 20 percent of those persons living in the United States will become infected.
  • Influenza is serious, but there is an effective vaccine for those over six months of age that helps prevent infection.
  • XYZ Health Department and the XYZ Immunization Coalition invite you to our flu clinic at 4th and Main, Friday, October 13th, from 9am to 6pm.
  • Bring the kids, bring the grandparents, bring yourselves. Flu’s Gonna Lose and You’re Gonna Win!


You’re almost there! When the videos are far enough along in the editing process, you will show them to a focus group. The group should be made up of individuals who have no expertise in the subject matter and generally represent your target audience.

Based on the discussion after the showing, you’ll be better equipped to tailor your message as your producer/videographer completes the post-production or editing process.


Finally, the end: Distribution! Put your video on your website or an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site from which local stations can download it. You can also hand-deliver copies to the TV stations.

If the video is downloadable, you’ll want to send a letter explaining who you are, what the message is, how to download the video, and why it’s important that the community see the video. Include your contact information and call the station within a week of the initial contact to see if they need additional information and to ask when they might run it.

If you plan to hand-deliver, write the same letter as above but leave out the downloading instructions.

Put a label on the DVD with the name of your group, your contact information, the video title and running time, start and end dates (unless it’s generic enough that it can run a year from now and still be timely), and any other specs your videographer thinks are necessary to mention.

This material was originally posted on PKIDs’ Communications Made Easy website.