Texas PSA Regulations

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Public Service Announcement Regulations - Texas

Public service announcements (PSAs) are regulated by both national government entities and by individual broadcast networks. In general, PSAs are required by networks to be nationally focused, and so, they are subject to little or no state mandated regulation. Primarily, broadcast networks maintain final decision-making authority as to what PSAs are broadcast, but they are under obligation to show commitment to public wellness by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

Public Service Announcement Network Regulations

  • Each PSA has to match the missions and goals of the sponsoring organization.
  • Along with governmental regulations, PSAs have to satisfy network requirements and individual broadcast policies. Each broadcast network maintains their own quality and presentation requirements for broadcasts, including PSAs.
  • Controversial public issues, including religiously based PSAs are not allowed.
  • Mostly, PSAs are required to be nationally focused, not limited to state or local needs/issues and have to be beneficial to the public.
  • Broadcast networks have the final approval decision of whether to air any PSA.
  • PSAs are also monitored for basic production quality and message presentation.
  • No explicitly stated private corporations, businesses, services, or products can be in any way displayed in a PSA by network standards.
  • PSAs that ask for donations or other funds are subject to special review, but must be specifically dedicated to benefiting the public.
  • If a network is donating the airtime for a PSA, any request for funding is not allowed.
  • While exact and specific network regulations for PSA quality and presentation are not available during the production and airing process, major broadcast networks such as NBC air content from large, non-profit supporters and PSA content creators on the topics and fields of education, children's services, diversity, voting, employment, disability services, public health and environmentalism.

Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Compliance

  • Since PSAs are not paid broadcasts, FCC "sponsorship identification rules do not apply."
  • In paid broadcasts, beneficiary organizations of any fund-raising, sales or services must be stated in the content, but this does not apply to PSAs.
  • By FCC standards, inclusions in PSAs displaying private sponsors and/or supporting businesses is not explicitly prohibited. Thus, generating support for individual companies through public aid campaigns, indirectly, is not expressly forbidden by the FCC.
  • The FCC also does not take action against offensive broadcasts, with the exception of broadcasts that violate specific laws. This also applies to the quality and content of PSA production, where the FCC does not appear to impose any specific regulations separate from direct illegality, as in the example of advertising of tobacco products, which is not applicable to PSAs that are not commercially supporting the product.
  • They also include provisions that prohibit the use of false, misleading, or subliminal methods in any broadcasts.
  • The inclusion of political candidates in PSAs can violate the FCC "Equal Time Rule." Under this regulation, any air-time allowed for a candidate must be provided for an opposing candidate if requested.
  • This can lead to network air-time obligations to opposing political candidates if any candidate appears in a PSA.
  • Some information states that networks were once required to provide a certain amount of donated air-time for public service announcements, but this regulation is no longer in place. No exact years of effect of these regulations were found.
  • Other information reported by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) expresses that the FCC never required specific amounts of PSAs to be included in broadcasts, but does require broadcast networks to prove commitments to public needs during the process of license renewal. This is a regulation form that is still currently in place, also including compliance with emergency and local public announcements.

Non-Profit and Government Public Service Announcements

  • Organizations that produce and air PSAs usually have to be either non-profit or government entities.
  • Private associations of professionals or tradesmen are not generally permitted, as they are often aimed at benefiting the supporting organization.

For-Profit Organization Public Service Announcements

  • For-profit entities that produce PSAs are subject to the same requirements as non-profit sponsored PSAs.
  • In paid commercials that support PSAs or other non-profits/charities, these for-profit companies must clearly state their organization title with reference to their sponsorship.

SAG-AFTRA Celebrity Public Service Announcements

  • In the case of celebrity advocates featured in PSAs, an organization called SAG-AFTRA keeps its own set of regulations that govern and approve whether celebrity member fees may be waived as long as the PSA is aired to benefit a government organization, or is sponsored by that government organization. This also includes PSAs that are produced by, or benefit a charity, including public services and museums.
  • Before inquiring about a SAG-AFTRA public figure's participation in a PSA, approval must be gained from the organization and the airtime dedicated to the PSA has to be donated.
  • In these instances, no company logos may be included in the announcement.

Research Strategy

Since the majority of PSAs are required by networks to be nationally focused, state-specific regulations were not found readily available. Numerous Texas State resources were searched for any governmental division that handles and regulates PSAs, but none were found; the only Texas State public service announcement information available listed current PSA campaigns by some sectors without reference to specific regulations or requirements. Individual broadcast networks were shown to maintain their own requirements for PSA quality and presentation, and although content provider organizations, past PSA examples and topics were found, specific and explicitly stated regulations and requirements of individual networks were not found available. One source from 2017 was included in reference to the past requirement that broadcast networks provide a certain amount of donated air-time for PSAs, which is not a current regulation.

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Public Service Announcement Strategies

PSAs are a highly competitive area. Several simple, yet effective concepts, can be utilized to maximize the chances of having a PSA broadcast. Knowing the target audience, defining the message, understanding the process around submission, and planning the content of a PSA are key aspects in determining success. Of equal importance, but often overlooked, is making a good first impression.

Keep it Simple and Authentic

  • It is important to realize there are any number of equally important groups and organizations vying for the same broadcast space. The broadcasters have limited time and information to decide which organization is most deserved.
  • Authenticity is important. It conveys legitimacy and provides a foundation for the broadcaster to use when making a decision.
  • Communicating the nature of the group, its role in the community, its history, and the importance of its message, helps in establishing authenticity. This type of information can be used as a basis to justify a decision by the broadcaster.
  • By providing this information, an emotional connection is established witha the decision maker. A context and background move the group from two-dimensional words on paper to three-dimensional reality.
  • Authenticity can also be established through the provision of links to relevant social media accounts, newsletters, and media stories. This information brings the group to life. It also creates authenticity in the information presented on paper.
  • With competition high in the PSA broadcast stakes, any group competing must give the broadcaster a reason to chose their group over another. Authenticity is a good reason.

Know the Target Audience

  • Knowing the audience that the message is targeting is vital. It informs all aspects of the process from planning to distribution.
  • It is important to know exactly who the message is targeting. This is more than considering gender or age focus. A complete demographic profile of the people the message is targeting is fundamental
  • Characteristics considered should include gender, age, race, education, income, and location
  • It is also worth considering the psycho graphic profile of the audience. Although this information is often harder to determine, it includes interests, attitudes, habits, and values.
  • Taking the time to consider, collate, and analyze this data will pay dividends in the long run. It is fundamental if the PSA is to be successful
  • Firstly, it ensures that any message is focused on the intended audience. By understanding the key characteristics of that group, tone, language, and content can be refined, and the likelihood of the message reaching the target audience optimized.
  • Secondly, the information will also assist in determining what the best format and medium are for delivery. For example, if the target audience are all avid radio listeners that don't own televisions, there would be little point in running the PSA on television.
  • Finally, it will assist in distribution. If the audience is a clearly defined group, living in a defined area, national distribution is unnecessary, local or regional distribution is more appropriate. Knowing the target audience when approaching broadcaster is key. If the relevance of the message to a clearly identifiable population group, within the broadcasters' catchment clear a broadcaster is more likely to look on the PSA favorably.

Define the Key Message

  • The benefit of a well-thought-out, simple, clear, and concise message can not be underestimated
  • Several processes can be adopted to ensure that a PSA has the best chance of reaching the target audience.
  • Key information can be easily lost, in detail, if the message is not focused. The temptation to include as much information as possible, in the hope that the audience will hear and take on board at least some, must be resisted
  • A clear and concise message is more likely to be heard.
  • A clear and concise message stands out.
  • It is authoritative. It makes people take note.
  • Too much, detail and the real message gets lost in the haze.
  • Taking the time to define and refine the message is fundamental if the PSA is going to be successful.
  • Broadcasters need to understand the message if they are going to play the message. Presenting the message clearly, is key to ensuring the broadcaster is on board.

First Impressions Count

  • This sounds so simple, yet so often, not enough attention is given to theses three simple words.
  • It is not easy, getting a PSA accepted for broadcast. It is a highly competitive process. Often the decision-makers have no personal knowledge regarding the submission they are evaluating. Against that background, anything that makes one submission stand out from the other is important.
  • The single best way to make a good first impression is to follow the instructions or advice of the broadcaster. Provide the exact information asked for in the exact way they ask for it.
  • Most radio and television networks have guidelines regarding the form of a submission, the information to be included, and the manner and medium in which it is to be submitted. Obtaining this information should be the first task completed following the decision to make a PSA. It will shape all the other decisions — the who, what, why, and how.
  • If the broadcaster does not have the information readily available, it is important to make inquiries at the start of the process, not when the time has come to submit.
  • At a minimum, the name of the person receiving submissions, the method of submission (electronic, post, delivery), the format (the type of digital file), and the exact information required, need to be determined at the start of the process.
  • When it is time to submit the information, follow the guidelines and instructions to the letter. The content submitted should be presented in a professional and organized manner.
  • It doesn't matter how good a submission is if the instructions of the person making the decision are not followed, because already that submission has lost ground. Never underestimate first impressions.

Plan Content and Time

  • The format and delivery are important. PSA slots are usually 30 or 60 seconds. Plan for both. One commentator suggested including a typed transcript of a 15-second slot. This gives the broadcaster another option if the normal slots have been filled.
  • A 30-second slot equates to 65 to 90 words. A 60-second slot is 150 to 180 words. Follow these guidelines. Attempting to squeeze in more will diminish the message. It is not worth it.
  • Remember the target audience and consider the best way to deliver the message to that precise group. Forget about getting the message to as many people as possible. Wide coverage is a waste of time if none of the people hearing the message are interested.
  • Check the facts. It is easy for slight inaccuracies to slip into planning, so before everything is finalized a final review should be undertaken.
  • One of the best ways to plan and organize the content is by using a template. There are several templates available free online. A template creates a map or framework for the presentation. It ensures that everything relevant is considered, and all details are addressed. It is especially important if the process is not familiar. It serves to create confidence that the final product will address all the required aspects.
  • A professional product lets the broadcaster see exactly what the message is. It is a strong statement. It means that any allocated time is not wasted, which is a big issue for broadcasters.

Research Strategy

We initially reviewed the guidelines for PSAs from a range of different broadcast outlets, to obtain a comprehensive overview of the environment. Once this was completed, we searched a range of literature around successful presentations, planning and making PSAs, and the distribution of PSAs. The sources of this information included scholarly articles, expert opinions, industry publications, and academic guidelines. The information available is considerable, so we developed a list of some of the most common strategies.

Once we had developed the list, we reviewed each strategy individually using the aforementioned sources. By doing this, we were able to identify five of the strategies that were most commonly referred to, contribute to the overall outcome, and are often overlooked. We attempted to select a range of strategies that covered five different aspects of the process.
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