Scriptwriting for Digital Media Production
Instructor: Lindsay Grace



Public Service Announcements

Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are short, "non-commercial" announcements prepared to provide information to the public. A non-commercial announcement contains information that benefits its intended audience, rather than the company that created it. For example, a PSA that provides health information differs from an ad that promotes the sale of a health product. Consequently, most PSAs are produced by nonprofit associations, but commercial, for-profit organizations may also use them to promote their nonprofit activities and events.
Free air time (usually 10- to 60-second spots) on television and radio is available to groups such as community associations, advocate groups, nonprofit organizations and for-profit organizations that are promoting their community, nonprofit events with PSAs. TV and radio stations donate this air time to meet the Federal Communications Commission's public service requirements.
PSAs are used by organizations to:
· Publicize community events.
· Provide health and safety tips.
· Assist in fund raising efforts.
· Inform and influence public opinion.
PSA messages:
· Must contain information that is beneficial to the community.
· Should not include controversial or self-serving material.
Many radio and TV stations have guidelines for acceptance and production of PSAs. Always send your news in their requested format.
Audio Tapes
Some radio stations require audio-taped PSAs that are ready to air. Audio PSAs produced by your organization may be as simple as having one person record the scripted message on audio tape; however, you may also incorporate music and sound effects. Write and format the copy for the taped PSA in the same manner as you would prepare live copy for broadcast (see below).
Live Copy
Many radio stations encourage the preparation of live-copy PSAs, which are short, scripted announcements to be read by the station's on-air talent during regular programming. ("Copy" is a term used to refer to text in brochures, press releases and, as in this case, a broadcast script.) PSAs are read as part of a community calendar or used whenever there is spare broadcast time. It is important to contact the public service directors at radio stations to determine the preferred format and length for PSAs.
Guidelines for Radio PSAs
· Fit your message into the standard time slots of 10, 15, 30 or 60 seconds. Names and phone numbers included in the message should be included in your timing. If you are submitting live-copy, read the message out loud and time yourself.
· Many stations prefer PSAs that are short.
· Include the most essential information in the first paragraph (the lead paragraph).
· Use the active voice.
o Active voice: The company offers several products.
o Passive voice: Several products are offered by the company.
· Use short, upbeat sentences written in everyday language.
· Tell how this information can help the viewer/listener.
· Ask for action.
· Tell viewers/listeners where they can go, what they can do or who they can call.
· Edit tightly; look for ways to shorten phrases and sentences.
Submitting Audio-Tapes
· Ask the station if cassette or reel-to-reel audio tape is preferred.
· Be sure the tape is labeled with your name, telephone number and the topic or headline of the PSA.
· Submit a printed copy (script) of the PSA, along with your pre-recorded tape, to the station and type "Tape Enclosed" at the top or end of the PSA script.
Standards (for PSA Copy)
· Print the PSA, if possible, on your company's letterhead (or with a heading that includes your business name, address, numbers, etc.).
· Type PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT at the top of the page so the journalist immediately knows what she's reading.
· Indicate whether the announcement is for immediate release or for a later release date. For example, you can type "For Immediate Release," "For Release on November 1, 1997" or "For Release On or After November 1, 1997."
· Include a contact name (most likely yours) and phone number. Be available to answer questions or provide further information. Call the reporter back promptly with responses to his or her inquiry.
· Include a reading time (how many seconds it should take to read the PSA on the air).
· Provide a short headline that summarizes the content at a glance. Try to include your company name in the headline to build instant name recognition. For example, "Brighton Electronics Offers Free Software Training."
· Type a "dateline" in front of the lead paragraph. A dateline includes the location from which the news is being generated (city in all caps) and the date. For example, a dateline might look like this:
DAYTON, Ohio (June 1, 1997) - Brighton Electronics introduced a switch. . .
Try to determine the date you expect the PSA to arrive on the journalist's desk and use it. The PSA may be hot off the press, but if it carries last week's date, a journalist may assume it's yesterday's information and throw it away without reading it.
Format (for PSA Copy)
· Type on only one side of the 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper - never print copy on the back side of the paper.
· Triple-space the entire PSA so that it can be easily read.
· Indent all paragraphs.
· Leave at least 1" for left and right margins. This gives the station space for editing, and makes your live copy easier to scan.
· Try to limit your PSA to one sheet. If it spills over to a second sheet, try to end the first page with a completed paragraph, or at least a completed sentence. Type "-more- " or " (more) " (without the parentheses) in the bottom center of the first page. At the top of the second page type a brief heading (flush left or right, but not centered) that includes the name of your organization, the date, page number and topic of the announcement (in case it's separated from the first page).
· Mark the end of your announcement with "###" or a "30" (centered and without the quotation marks) to signal that no additional copy follows.
Lead Time
· Send your PSA to the stations as far in advance as possible.
· Many stations request at least a two-week lead time.
For television, there must be a visual component to the story. Most of the the guidelines for radio PSAs (see above) are applicable to television PSAs, with two exceptions:
· The question to be asked of the TV station is whether three-quarter inch or one-inch video tape is preferred (not cassette or reel-to-reel).
· Format the verbal (audio) message of your PSA in the same manner as you would prepare live copy for radio broadcast (see above) with one exception–format script pages so that the text of the audio portion is on the right side and a description of what is occurring in the video portion is on the left. Here's an example of a broadcast script:
Brighton Electronics Offers Free Software Training Time: 30 seconds
Video Audio
Woman working at computer with instructor looking on. Employers today demand workers with highly specialized technical skills.
Panning shot of the entrance of Brighton Electronics with people going in and out of the front door. Brighton Electronics offers need-based scholarships for software training. For information or to apply, call . . . .
Remember to submit a printed copy of your message along with your prerecorded videotape to the station. Be sure "Tape enclosed" appears on the printed copy, and that your tape is labeled with your name, company name, telephone number and the PSA headline.
Production on a Shoestring
Production costs for videotaped TV PSAs tend to be much higher than those for radio. Costs vary depending on the simplicity or complexity of the spot you develop. For assistance in producing a TV PSA, you might try several things:
· Ask a local advertising or public relations firm to assist you as a public service.
· Ask a local TV station to produce your spot. They may be willing to help if you use their on-air talent for your announcement. Allow the station to share the tag line with your organization. For example, ". . .brought to you by Channel 3 and Connie's Kid Stuff."
· Contact your local public access cable station. Many community stations offer classes on producing PSAs and/or provide low-cost assistance.
· Students at college TV stations may be willing to help.
Air Time
Most stations broadcast PSAs early in the morning or very late at night. Ask the station's public service director to consider placing your PSA in an available day or prime time spot. If possible, visit the station to hand-deliver your PSA and meet the public service director.
Online Resources
The National Association of Broadcasters publishes a few books on communicating effectively with the media.


Provided by Lindsay Grace for students of the Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago. These documents may be used by others when properly credited. Please email lgrace at aii edu for more information.