Bill Goodwill

Creating Your Message – 10 Helpful TipsBaby

Our role as a PSA distributor begins when the master materials are delivered to us.  Typically, we have nothing to do with the creative process, but if there is one thing we understand, it is PSA usage practices, as that is our stock in trade.

With that in mind, there are a number of things that producers should think about in the creative process that could have an immense impact on ultimate media usage and exposure. Following are things to think about as you begin the creative process:

  1. Adopt a team approach. When producing your PSA, adopt a team approach by bringing all the people who will be involved in the campaign to the table in the planning stage. This might include the person who commissioned the campaign, the account team, if being done by an advertising agency, the producer, director and copywriters.  This doesn’t mean writing copy by committee, which normally results in disaster. It means that those who will be involved in various executional aspects of the campaign should all understand the objectives, target audiences, timing, and call-to-action for the campaign BEFORE you start creating the message.

  2. Produce PSA materials for a broad media mix. Each medium has different strengths and weaknesses in terms of reaching your audience and stakeholders. Accordingly, you should adapt a multi-media approach, which includes TV, (broadcast and cable; national and local), radio, print and out-of-home.  The latter category typically includes airport dioramas, transit and mall posters. How you develop your message for each of these media must be different, because the delivery platform for each is different.  This is not to suggest that a TV campaign by itself will not be successful, but if budget permits, you should think of the larger media world.

  3. Keep your message simple.  You have sixty seconds or less to deliver your message, and remember the audience will be doing other things when they see or hear your PSA.  What many people think is the most famous PSA ever conceived – the Fried Egg TV spot produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America – used 12 words, an egg and a frying pan as their creative concept.  However, once you saw it, you never forgot it.

  4. Provide message flexibility.  PSA availability is a function of unsold media time and space – it is completely random in nature.  Accordingly, you should offer the media maximum flexibility in terms of formats, sizes and lengths. More specifics follow.

  5. Embrace diversity.  Produce PSAs to reach a variety of audiences. Or, if your budget does not permit that, at least show diversity in the way you package your campaign by using photos of different ethnicities and gender. In many cases, the person who decides if your PSA gets on the air will be a minority woman.

  6. Do your homework.  Before you type the very first word of copy…before you even think of a creative concept, read everything you can about the type of messages the media uses.  Learn what you can about the media mindset – the things the media considers when making the decision to use a particular PSA or not.  Think about localizing your PSA in some way and have a clear understanding of the types of formats the media want.  We have made it somewhat easier for you via our Frequently Asked Questions on our PSA Research Center  Here you can and learn about what types of materials the media will use, including optimum spot  lengths, and things to avoid in your PSA creative development.

  7. Avoid controversy.  The last thing any media organization wants to do is create controversy over a PSA they used.  In fact, their main objective is to build greater audience share, not to turn away viewers, listeners and readers.  If you represent issues such as gun control, abortion, or fringe religious issues, you may want to consider another way to disseminate your message, because it is unlikely the media is going to use it as a PSA.

  8. Recognize and capitalize on media strengths.  The reason TV can be such a powerful medium is it offers full motion, sound and color, with the best PSAs using  all three to maximum advantage.  Talking heads rarely make good TV PSAs unless the person delivering the message is extremely compelling.  For radio, you have to create theater of the mind via interesting voice-over copy and dramatic sound effects.  For print, and to a greater extent out-of-home, you must use very brief and powerful copy and graphics.

  9. Avoid any type of commercialization, which includes audio or visual references to any profit-seeking organization, including the use of logos or corporate spokespersons who are identified in their corporate role.

  10. Don’t compete against yourself.  Less is more, regarding the number of different PSAs that you include in your package.  There is only so much time available and typically the public service director will cherry pick the spots in your package, using one or two and the rest will be wasted.  Think about sending the others at another time and possibly double your exposure.


  1. Kill dates.  If you used union talent in your PSA, it is very important to put a
    “kill date” on the master tape – the date when talent payments expire. If you fail to do this, and the PSAs run beyond the buyout cycle, you could be liable forsubstantial union payments, and it is likely the union will know.

  2. Labeling your master.   All spot titles need to be listed by spot length, with a  
    “TRT” (Total Running Time) on the master, so the dub house will know what they are dealing with. If you are including PSAs in a language other than English, all PSAs should be on the same master and labeled appropriately.

  3. Protection master. Never send the protection master to our dub house; it should be  kept by the producer, the ad agency or post-production house used to edit the PSA.

  4. Bars, slate and tone.  You should always include what are referred to as “bars, slate and tone” on your master so local stations do not have to calibrate their equipment to their broadcast standards. ion by the station is necessary.
    The master, should have :00 with bars and tone showing:
    Client/Title/Duration/Date/AD ID # (see point below regarding Ad ID),  followed by :05 of slate, :05 black and then the various spots, typically with the longest length to the shortest.

  5. Encoding/close captioning. It is not necessary for the creative producer to encode the master with the A.C. Nielsen SpotTrac code used to track TV PSA usage or to  close caption the PSA.  Our dub house is set up to provide those services as part of the replication function.

  6. Ad-ID Code is a Web-based system that generates a unique identifying code for advertising messages to help identify them across all media.  As it applies to PSA  campaigns,  we only need an Ad ID code if the PSA is going to be distributed to national networks.  There is no cost to get the code for a non-profit 501(c)(3)  organization, but the producer must send an email to: with a copy of their determination letter from the IRS. The email subject must contain “Non-Profit” and  Name of Advertiser. For questions or further assistance,  please call customer service at (704) 501-4410.

  7. Master tape format. If submitting a tape master, DigiBeta is the best format to submit to our dub house.  It should be sent via some traceable method to:

    Video Labs Corp., 15230 Display CourT, Rockville, MD. 20850
    800-800-8240  Attn: Valerie Yoscak

    To ensure the dub house and we, as your distributor, can coordinate things, you should also send an email to Valerie at the above address with a cc to

    If you are submitting a digital file, Apple Pro Res 422 HQ (HD) @29.97 data rate is the optimum file format. We can also accept an Apple Pro Res 422 file. The easiest way to get the file to our dub house is via their ftp site which is at

    Once on their ftp site, following is the user name and password:


In most cases, we will be designing and producing the collateral materials for your PSA, but there are a few items required for TV PSAs:

  1. Letter to the public service director with some brief facts on your issue.  Go to for samples.

  2. Signature of the person signing the letter (can be part of the letter or on a separate piece of paper and sent to us via email at the above email address)

  3. A high-res copy of your logo in .eps, .gif. .tiff or .jpeg formats

If you are participating in our CablePAK distribution service, please indicate that in your communication with us because we need to produce 500 extra storyboards for that distribution.  (You should be able to tell if our CablePAK service will be part of your campaign as it would have been included in our estimate as an optional service.)


General Guidelines

Our recommendation would be to use a more generic creative approach that would be acceptable to any type of station.  However, if you produce PSAs with different musical soundtracks, you should label them appropriately, i.e. “OurOrg_5kWalk_Country_30.MP3,” “OurOrg_5kWalk_Rock_30.MP3,” which helps program directors align your PSA approach with the appropriate program.   The same rules that apply to TV apply to radio, in terms of kill dates and non-English language versions.          

  1. Technical specs.  Submit your master using either .Mp3, .WAV,  .WMV or Audio CD digital files with a sampling frequency of 44.1kHz and a bit rate of  390 kb/sec.  Since we have to do additional file preparation, they should be  sent via email to

  2. Titles.  Sometimes producers will create PSAs with essentially the same voice over message, but will use different musical backgrounds to make the PSAs  compatible with the station’s program format. 

  3. Capacity. Generally, you can get 74 minutes of audio on a CD, which provides 650 megs of capacity, but that could change depending on the fileformat you use. For radio, total capacity depends upon the type of file you send, i.e. .wav versus .mp3. With .wav format, you can get more program material on the disk, but there are user issues. Thus you are better off using the .mp3 format, even if that means putting less program material on the CD, because you will increase the chances it will get used.


General Guidelines

In terms of print, smaller PSAs stand a much better chance of getting used than larger PSAs, and you should offer a good mix of sizes in both horizontal and vertical formats. While you may get a full page magazine and/or larger size newspaper PSA placements, they are rare.  A common mistake many producers make is to produce only or mostly larger ads which look great on the art director’s wall, but stand little chance of getting used.

  1. For newspapers, popular PSA sizes using Standard Ad Unit sizes are: 1     column - 2 1/16 x 4" 2 column - 4 1/4 x 7" 2 column - 4 1/4 x 6" 3 column - 6 7/16 x 4" and 4 column - 8 5/8 x 5"

  2. Following are minimal sizes for magazine PSAs: Full-page: 7x10" 1/3 page square: 4 3/4" x 4 3/4" 1/6 page: 2 1/16 x 5" half page: 7x4 7/8" 1/3 page vertical: 2 1/16"x 10" 2/3 page vertical: 4 3/4"x 10"
File Formats

Send hi-res .PDF files and if we need to manipulate any of the files, we will ask for Quark native files including all fonts.


In many ways Out-of-Home works quite differently than other types of media, mostly because we do not distribute materials until we get orders for them.  Once we get the orders we print what airports and malls have requested.  Here are the basic sizes.

File Preparation

  1. Prepare your layout at 25% of the actual size with file format: binary EPS (linked files) in Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, InDesign or Quark (Mac or PC).  Include all screen and printer fonts used in your document and imported graphics.

  2. We need a file that is ultimately 150 DPI to full size or anything proportional, i.e. 50% at 300 DPI.

  3. All jobs should be accompanied by a hard color copy for reference and indicate PMS colors to be matched in the document.

If sending on disc: CD, DVD-RAM, send to:

TKO Visual Communication
405 Business Park Lane, Allentown PA 18109
Phone: 610.770.7700 x 15 Fax: 800.422.4394

If uploading files via ftp:


When your campaign has been distributed, we will create a custom reporting portal for your organization, along with a user name and password to access reports.  The usage data is refreshed weekly, and if you want to see the type of data that we report, go to our corporate website at the URL below and enter the User name and Password as indicated.