PRINT PUBLIC SERVICE ADVERTISING

The Case for Print PSAs

By Bill Goodwill

Unlike broadcast PSAs, they don't convey sound or motion and they are not as fun to produce. Yet due to their comparatively low production and replication cost, coupled with their ability to reach discrete audiences, print PSAs offer some great communications benefits. For example, they are more tangible than other forms of media, and while people may miss your message in the more ethereal electronic media, a full page magazine ad is proof positive that the message at least got printed.

Because print is typically used far less frequently than broadcast, many mass communications professionals lack the necessary expertise of formulating a strategic and cost effective print PSA plan. This primer on print is designed to help.

Creative Considerations

Before even thinking about the distribution and packaging phase, organizations which distribute print PSAs, should have their art director read the guide: ”Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes” by Andy Goodman.

"Creating public interest print ads that work is an art, and a particularly challenging one at that," says Goodman, a communications consultant and trainer who helps nonprofits communicate more effectively. He goes on to say "fortunately, there are several easily learned techniques that can improve the chances your [PSA] ad will be noticed, read and remembered." In his book which can be downloaded at Bad Ads-Good Causes Andy provides seven "Print Ad Principles" that have been extensively tested. They can help any organization placing print PSAs to compete more effectively in an increasingly cluttered marketplace of ideas. It is based on an unprecedented 10-year study of public interest advertising, and incorporates interviews with leading practitioners in the field.

DISTRIBUTION

Since there are newspapers and magazines that reach discrete audiences such as college students, seniors, Hispanics and African-Americans, the first thing your distributor has to know are the kinds of people you are trying to reach. While all distributors will use a different approach, we use our our PUBSANS (Public Service Advertising Analysis System) database to target print media.

Newspapers

Depending upon whose numbers you use, there are just over 11,000 daily and weekly newspapers in the U.S., all of which are in our print database. Of the total shown, 78% are regular PSA users.

There are a variety of ways You can target print media to develop a custom distribution plan including by:

  • Type - daily, weekly, or newspapers reaching special audiences in the foregoing categories.

  • Circulation size - ranging from the largest metro papers to those published in small towns.

  • Previous usage practices - our system includes a tracking method for reaching those newspapers that regularly use PSAs, as well as the frequency of previous usage. Thus, if you want to reach those newspapers that will most likely use your PSA, we can target those with the highest PUI (Previous Usage Index) that we maintain for all newspapers in our database.

  • Geographic subsets - beyond the most common methods for market segmentation, i.e. city, state, zip, we can also break newspaper distribution lists down by local chapter, affiliate, office, district or whatever segmentation method used to communicate with your field offices.

Magazines

Magazines offer two big advantages over newspapers. First, they tend to have much bigger circulations; and secondly for the most part they can help you reach discrete audiences. It is difficult to know exactly how many national, regional and local magazines there are in the U.S. but they typically reach a diverse, and often upscale audience.

We have a total of 3,404 magazines in our database, segmented by three horizontal categories and in 47 vertical categories, which are listed at the end of this case study.

Over 600 of them, or about 18% of our total magazine universe, regularly use PSAs. As with all other media components, we can develop a customized print distribution to target heavy PSA users, by circulation size, by audience, or a combination of these factors.

PACKAGING

Like many other things in our digital society, the method of distributing print PSAs has gone “hi-tech,” and distributing them on CDs is the standard. CDs offer digital art which is much easier for magazines and newspapers to use; the quality is much better; and the capacity of a CD can accommodate a large number of print PSA executions. This includes artwork for color newspapers, which are now commonplace.

Our standard print PSA package includes a thumbnail insert to show the art director at the receiving publication the different sizes and creative messages being provided, the CD with hi-res PDF files, and an external mailer. Since there are no universal standards with magazine and newspaper sizes, it is also good to include the "native files" that were used to create the PSAs on the CD, because that way publications can tweak your sizes slightly to make them fit the available space. You should create separate folders for the MAC versus the PC, since many publishers and art directors use the MAC platform. For a checklist of the files and formats you need to provide, you can go to: Offset Artwork Specs

Sizes

As with all PSAs, the secret to success in maximizing usage is to provide the media with as much flexibility as possible. One of the biggest mistakes when designing print PSAs is to create too many larger sizes. Obviously larger designs look better, but it is rare that you will get a full page print PSA these days with most print properties suffering from a loss of readers and ad revenues. In reality, most of the insertions you will get will be smaller fractional size ads. The following graph shows the most frequently used newspaper PSA sizes. Important note: a study we did for Easter Seals showed that 75% of all PSAs used were under 9 column inches, so insist that your design team create a good mix of smaller print PSAs because those are the ones what will get used most frequently.



Also keep in mind that when trying to fill holes in the page makeup, art directors need both horizontal and vertical sizes. Here are some of the most popular sizes to include on your CD, and each print PSA should be in a separate folder in terms of newspaper versus magazines, and color versus black and white. If you want to get placements in some of the biggest magazines, it also very important that you let them know you are willing to customize files for their use. It might cost a few hundred dollars to accommodate their needs, but you could get tens of thousands of dollars worth of exposure in return.


  • Full page: 7x10"
  • Half page horizontal: 4 ¾ x 6 7/8"
  • Quarter page vertical 4 x 5"
  • 1/6 page vertical: 2 ¼ x 5"
  • Two thirds vertical 4 ½ x 10"
  • One third vertical: 2 1/16 x 10"

EVALUATION

Evaluating print PSAs has gotten considerably more difficult in the past few years because the largest clip service - Burrelle/Luce - no longer provides print PSA clips. Like everyone else, they have gone digital and are focusing on the commercial side of their business, making it more difficult to get clips from PSA placement. Cision has now become the primary source for getting clips for PSAs, and we also typically employ telemarketing follow-up among key magazines to ensure we get copies of all PSA insertions as part of our reporting process.

Of the slightly less than 13,000 print outlets in our master database, about half of them are regular PSA users. Because it is based on a tangible ad, print PSA evaluation is the most accurate of any non-paid communications, but it is far from simple.

At a miniumum print PSA evaluation reports should include:

  • The publication name, date, circulation, and market in which exposure was generated;
  • Whether a magazine or newspaper PSA was used and the size of exposure in column inches or page fraction;
  • The headline of the ad or other key copy point that the client wants to track;
  • The estimated value for each placements;
  • The publication name, date, circulation, and market in which exposure was generated;
  • Whether a magazine or newspaper PSA was used and the size of exposure in column inches or page fraction;
  • The headline of the ad or other key copy point that the client wants to track;
  • The value of individual placements;
  • Totals for campaign key parameters, number of cities, states, pubs, circulation, newspapers vs. magazines, etc..

Shown above is a benchmark average of several print PSA campaigns we have distributed over the past several years. One campaign for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society generated just under $2MM in exposure, almost all of it from leading magazines. Given the comparative modest cost for producing a print campaign, this value represents an excellent return on investment.

There are several ways to measure the success of your print PSA campaign including:

  • Number of potential people you reached (gross circulation totals for publications using your PSAs)
  • The type of readers you reached (examine the type of magazines or newspapers using your PSAs)
  • The dollar value of the PSAs that were used and the cost benefit ratio of the campaign (divide the value by the production and distribution cost)
  • The number of people who called your organization or visited your webstie for information based on your print ads (requires that you put a unique URL in your print ad copy and ask your toll-free operator to log in the source of phone calls).

When looking at geographic coverage, you are going to get the majority of exposure from your newspaper PSAs which tend to be local, but sometimes local is good. Many people prefer reading news about their local community in lieu of, or in addition to national news, so small weeklies should not be discounted.

Importance of Magazine Follow-up

In terms of audience reach and dollar values, a well-placed magazine PSA could easily surpass the value and circulation of a hundred newspaper placements, thus it is important to take extra steps to encourage their usage. Organizations which have been most successful with print PSAs take the time to do follow-up calls, particularly among the top magazines.

Unlike broadcast media, the decision-making process is quite diffused with a variety of people who might be involved such as the publisher, the advertising director, the production director or a combination of all of them. Accordingly, ask your distributor to provide you with a list of the top 100 circulation magazines, and call them on the phone to ensure that they got your PSA and that the materials are what they can use. Also, keep on mind that almost all newspapers and magazines have online versions and it can be that you can get an online placement on their web site.

In conclusion, for those program planners working on a modest budget, print PSAs, when properly designed and distributed, can provide an excellent cost-benefit return. And because of their tangibility, as well as the longer shelf life they offer, print can be an excellent medium for generating public action, such as calling a hot-line or encouraging website visits.

However, you should avoid treating print like a weak sister. You need to use the same level of quality when executing a print campaign as you use for broadcast campaigns, except the outcome is completely different. Too many print campaigns - particularly magazines - are poorly executed and thus they don't stand a chance of getting used.

Before designing your print campaign, review the very best magazines being published today and look at the quality of the paid ads. That's what you are competing against, and a publisher is not about to denigrate the quality of his or her editorial product by a badly designed print ad, regardless of how important your cause may be.

For more insight on this aspect of print placement, go to www.psaresearch.com/bib2003.html, to bring up an article by the former publisher of Harper's Bazaar magazine. Titled: "Hard Being Good - worthy Causes But Unworthy Ads," here's an excerpt from the article that applies not only to print, but to all media outlets that use your PSAs:

Only once in the 24 years that I've had the title "Publisher" after my name -- just once -- has a charitable group said "thank you," to me at least, for a free ad. And that was a long time ago. The Girl Scouts of America had a PR director who meticulously sent me a letter and a box of Girl Scout Cookies (of blessed, caloric memory) every time we ran one of her messages. But she must have retired, because all is silence after they ask for space and get it.

Hello out there, all you others. Your appeals all say, "thanking you in advance." How's about a word of appreciation -- not to me but to all the magazines who support you -- after the fact? We're human, too.

To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle's Dad: "We're willin' to 'elp you, we're wantin' to 'elp you, we're waitin' to 'elp you." Just help us by designing ads for our audience. And say thanks once in a while.

THE TAKE AWAY

Do

  • Design a variety of sizes in both horizontal and vertical formats
  • Target PSA users and those publications with the largest circulations
  • Develop a custom magazine list to match the target audiences for your campaign
  • Include native files on your CD with all fonts used to create your PSAs
  • Follow-up with top circulation magazines to ensure they have the file sizes they can use

    Don't

  • Shortchange print design quality, or save your money because they won't get used
  • Create ads with a lot of copy because more smaller ads than large ones will be used
  • Address your print ad package to the editorial side of the house - target Advertising Directors or Production Directors
  • Forget to say thank you to the publications that use your PSA

    Bill Goodwill is CEO of Goodwill Communications, a Virginia-based company that specializes in PSA distribution and evaluation.

    Updated 12/23/10

    APPENDIX

    PUBSANS Master Magazine Database
    Specific Category Selections

    MAGCODE DESCRIPTION MAGCODE DESCRIPTION
    AD ADVERTISING HIS HISPANIC
    AG AGRICULTURE HOME HOME
    ART ART LP LEGAL
    AS ASSOCIATION MCOM MASS COMMUNICATION
    AUTO AUTOMOTIVE MED MEDICAL
    AV AUDIO VISUAL MKTG MARKETING
    BANK BANKING MNPL MUNICIPAL
    BK BLACK NEWS NEWS
    BLDG BUILDING PERS PERSONNEL
    BUS BUSINESS PR PUBLIC RELATIONS
    CHILD CHILDREN PUB PUBLISHING
    CITY CITY RE REAL ESTATE
    COMP COMPUTER RLG RELIGIOUS
    CONS CONSUMER RTL RETAIL
    CT CONSTRUCTION RUR RURAL
    DEF DEFENSE SCI SCIENCE
    ECOL ECOLOGY SPORT SPORT
    ED EDUCATIONAL SR SENIORS
    FIN FINANCIAL TN TRANSPORTATION
    FOOD FOOD TVL TRAVEL
    GOVT GOVERNMENT WOM WOMENS
    HE HEALTH YOUTH YOUTH

    Broad Category Selections

    MC=CONSUMER MAGAZINES: 2,023 USERS
    MP=PROFESSIONAL MAGAZINES: 505
    MI=INDUSTRY MAGAZINES: 722
    TOTAL: 3,250 545 = 17%

    Newspaper Overview

    DAILIES: 1,691 USERS
    WEEKLIES: 7,967
    TOTAL: 9,658 4,832 = 50%