Public Relations Writing: Lesson #6 - p. 5

Important points about PSAs and Broadcast Releases

  • PSAs and broadcast releases are very different. Keep in mind that PSAs (assuming you have a non-profit angle to your announcement, or can develop one) and broadcast releases are both useful ways to get your client publicized on the air -- both are written for the ear rather than the eye -- and both are one-page items -- but that's about all they have in common.

  • A PSA is essentially an unpaid ad, and the style is that of unabashed ad copy -- though you're well-advised to keep it on the soft-sell side. It hews to a single theme, makes a single point (to inform or to persuade), and requires a single paragraph. Though a PSA doesn't have room for details (people don't listen to radio holding a pencil, ready to write down the phone number), it will always include a general call to action. Type it in all caps, ready for use in the studio. Often PSAs are not double-spaced (especially if double-spacing would cause the text to flow onto a second page) but you can set your word-processor to 1.5 spacing.

  • The timing of a PSA is critical. After you have it the way you want it, you have to read it at a normal pace, and make sure a 30-second spot comes in between 28 and 29 seconds. Too short and your radio friends will learn to distrust you, since they have allotted 30 seconds and you've left them with dead air. Too long and your radio friends will learn to hate you, since you'll crowd their other spots. Either way, they'll be less likely to use your next submission.

  • A broadcast release is news, or will be if you succeed in getting it on the air. Like all news it needs a strong angle -- what makes it newsworthy? Like everything written for the ear, it needs to be streamlined, easy to read, easy to grasp quickly, focused on a single point, using repetition to hammer the point home. The call to action will be implicit in the facts of your news story. It's typed in caps/lower case, for editing by the station's news staff (though it should be ready-to-rip-and-read for that rare case when it will be used intact.)

  • PSA's and broadcast releases have different destinations. You would never send a PSA to the newsroom. A PSA, which resembles advertising copy, goes to the community relations office at the broadcast station, where someone is paid to review PSA's and make decisions about which ones the station will air. A broadcast release would never go to that person -- it would go to the news director, where decisions are made about which news items to air. The PSA may be read as is, but the broadcast release would be treated as information for the news team to use in covering the story; occasionally a broadcast release will be used "as is," but that's just as rare as for a newspaper to run your release "as is."

  • Almost all "good news" is local, one way or another. Note that this (fictional) software product is being released nationally this fall. For the PSA, that fact may be more or less useful, depending on your approach. But for the broadcast release, it's essential that you make a national story into a local story -- which is as easy as the first two words of my release.

  • Broadcast matter, like milk, should be "stale-dated." For both PSAs and broadcase releases, use the "Begin" and "End" format shown above, to show the "shelf life" of your copy. That's your promise to the on-air personality that your material can be read during that date range without risk of embarrassment (the DJ will never completely forgive you if you mislead him into reading a release promoting last night's concert).

  • Use common-sense language, not symbols. At the end of the release, I prefer "end" rather than "30" or pound signs, only because so much of our work will sooner or later be online, where symbols and numbers have different meanings that could cause confusion.


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