|Public service advertising gives organizations the opportunity to use the same channels of communication that big commercial advertisers use but on relatively small budgets. It is not unusual for a television public service campaign produced and distributed on a budget of $25,000 to $50,000, or a radio campaign done for $13,000 - $20,000, to get airtime that would have cost $1 million to $5 million as paid advertising. In fact, public service advertising probably is the greatest "value" an organization can get. Paying for time allows an advertiser to choose stations and airtimes, while when and where PSAs are played is up to public service directors. But PSAs typically cost less than 1% of the time value they garner so they rank much higher in cost-efficiency.
Analysis of a typical TV public service campaign shows:
Television and radio stations are no longer required to carry public service announcements but broadcasters consider them almost indispensable to fill unsold commercial time. A similar imperative can be seen in newer outlets that were never regulated and licensed like stations: as soon as cable networks began airing commercials and cable systems began inserting commercials in those networks at the local level, these outlets started using PSAs. Other outlets that air PSAs are national and regional cable television and radio networks. In all, the television and radio media each have more than 10,000 outlets that could be considered for a public service campaign.
For both television and radio PSAs, we track with the SIGMA system that we helped A.C. Nielsen develop for electronically monitoring PSAs. This system gives us the station, date and time of each play. Dubs for distribution directly to stations can be given one code, dubs for local offices of an organization to carry to stations another, and dubs for tapes given to networks still another. Then, monitored plays can be separated as to source. Monitoring is only the first step in analyzing radio and TV PSAs. For example, because a single PSA play is counted as multiple plays when reception of the electronic code is interrupted, SIGMA data can have a lot of duplicates. We created programs to delete these duplicate plays. It is not unusual for a widely distributed campaign to accumulate more than 10,000 monitored plays, making it difficult to “see the forest for the trees."
Our computer programs summarize the data, presenting it in easy-to-read listings, tables and charts, including: