NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Public Service Announcements play in unsold commercial time on most radio stations. Some “PSA”s air locally if we have slots in our syndicated programs that aren’t filled with local sponsors. Some PSAs are played by our networks, then they have unsold network inventory. Stations with high ratings and strong demand for their commercials play almost no public service announcements at all. Struggling, unsuccessful radio stations might play dozens of PSAs each day.
Most national PSA campaigns come from the Ad Council. It’s a national consortium that produces public service announcements. For-profit advertising agencies offer their services for free, similar to a law firm that does some pro-bono work.
Public service announcements are supposed to be non-partisan.
In recent years, that’s been stretched.
We have a growing number of PSAs that advertise welfare and social service benefits. People are being encouraged to take government benefits that they may technically qualify for, but may not need.
Consider a single mother and her two children. Each month they pay their gas and electric bill. Their budget gets tight in the winter when heating bills are highest – but they manage to pay. Then the woman hears the following PSA from her local radio station: “Keep your kids warm this winter. You may qualify for assistance to help pay for your winter heating bills. For more information, call 1-800….” Now these may indeed be benefits that this woman qualifies for. Yet heating assistance, which already doesn’t cover everyone who needs it, will be stretched even more thin if more people sign up. And remember, in my example, the would-be beneficiary was already getting by without the government perk.
We’ve had many of these kinds of PSAs in recent years: PSAs that encourage parents to apply for free or reduced price school lunch and breakfast; PSAs that encourage pregnant women to see if they qualify for WIC benefits; PSAs that now remind people of their new Obamacare benefits, including free healthy check-ups and some screenings.
Of course, the more these benefits are publicized the more difficult it is to change or cut them. Health care, for instance, could be going away in the next few days based on the pending Supreme Court ruling.
There’s a fine line here. Informing people about government services and benefits is a legitimate public service. But is advertising that builds an entrenched constituency for government largess a good idea?
Operations Manager,Midwest Communications-Wausau