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Remember the PSA? You should.

Last week I was hanging out at WCHL, our local radio station, waiting to go on air for a segment sponsored by a nonprofit on whose board I serve (Curious? Listen here.). I was chatting with my friend Chela, an account exec, about  the range of services the station offers local nonprofits, among them the public service announcement (PSA). I realized I hadn't thought about PSAs in a long time. And I realized that was dumb.

Radio listening is up according to Nielsen data.

  • AM/FM radio still reaches 93% of U.S. adults
  • 58% of all listening goes to just one station, the listener's favorite
  • Radio listening is also consistent year round, with a very high reach and frequent usage among average listeners (5 out of seven days per week tuned in)

With this data in mind, I realize it's time we revisit our old friend, the PSA.

Nota Bene: PSAs are especially important in under-served media markets, like the one I live in. We have no daily paper, and what passes for the zoned edition of the regional major daily is a joke. The student paper for the University of North Carolina, The Daily Tar Heel, is excellent, but small and can only provide so much off-campus coverage. We've got a public TV station, a very popular public radio station, several low-power FM broadcasters. The broadcast outlets do a good job covering area and state news and or hyperlocal special interests. But only WCHL, our formerly AM now FM station, provides daily and trusted news and commentary on our particular community. When something bad happens around town (or good, or political), WCHL is where we tune in to -- whether it's on a radio, via the live stream or following them on social. But I digress.

If you're running a nonprofit, or hosting an event that benefits the community or a charity, don't forget the radio PSA. It's a great way to reach people with your message.

How to Write a PSA

PSAs are super-short -- usually somewhere between 60 and 90 words because it needs to be read (not like that FedEx guy) in 60 seconds or less. This used to be hard for writers, but thanks to social media, a lot of us a good at it now. But unlike social posts, which are read silently, a PSA needs to be short AND easy to read aloud.

That means avoiding complex sentence constructions and focussing on rhythm (wonks like me call it sentence fluency) and word choice -- two critical elements of voice. When read out loud, it should sound friendly and conversational. Pro Tip: Provide phonetic  pronunciation of unusual words and names, like Margot (MAR-go).

The idea needs to be super concise, of course, which means we've got to get to the point fast and deliver only the most pertinent details.

How to write a PSA for an event

Event PSAs are pretty easy because there's so much required information. Try for a short, attention-getting opening statement, then get right to the 4-1-1:

  • The event's host, including big-name emcees
  • The type of event: gala, fun-run, lecture, auction, etc.
  • Date(s) and time(s) event takes place
  • Location of event
  • Short description of the event and how it ties to your mission or supports your beneficiaries/clients
  • Concise contact information (a URL, phone number or social media page) that are easily read and remembered

By ending with the contact information, you ensure that listeners who missed some of the information know where to get more.

How to write an issue PSA

PSAs of this sort are a little more challenging, because it can be hard to know what details to include from all the information you have. For these announcements, usually around something like a health or social issue or a campaign or initiative, it's critical to convey one main idea clearly and strongly, then offer a couple of additional details that provide the most logical support for listeners. Like the event PSA, issue PSAs should end with contact information, too.

I use this technique for writing anything short: The Idea-Details Strategy™, developed by my husband, Steve Peha. Here's a quick look at it:

The Idea-Details® Strategy from Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc.

If you want a step-by-step guide to using it, check out this short slide show or download the worksheet:

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