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My Adventure into the World of Public Service Announcements

This article was contributed by Aubrie Kavanaugh

“You know life’s too short to live it in fear. Only thing you will regret is what you do not do at all even more than the stupid things you do. . .” (“Surrender,” by Fisher)

I’ve done a lot of stupid things over the years in the name of animal welfare advocacy. They never start out badly, of course, but I have been known to do the wrong thing for the right reason. I’m working on that. Really. One of those things which seemed pretty stupid at first has actually turned out quite well and that’s what I’m writing about today: my adventure into the world of Public Service Announcements (also called PSAs) for television. I just sent out my latest batch of “spots” and since I’ve seemed to hit my stride with them locally, I told Yurda and Rufino I’d share my story in hopes others can follow my path and perhaps have similar results.

We are the No -Kill Movement PSA Cutout

In the summer of 2008, Best Friends Animal Society held a contest: make a 30-second public service announcement for television on the subject of puppy mills. Finalists would be chosen by Best Friends and then put to an Internet vote. The winner would be given a trip to Best Friends’ annual Lint Roller Party. I had been making photo slide shows for nonprofit groups and about animal welfare subjects for a couple of years by then so I told myself, “why not?” I didn’t win the contest and looking back, I think my audio track was a tad too firm, but the contest did give me confidence. If I could make a PSA good enough to come in second place (by a handful of votes, or so I was told), why not just make them on my own? As we used to say in the Army, “no guts, no glory.”

After losing the contest, I started fiddling with making short slide shows in a PSA format. I knew that local rescue groups wouldn’t have the time to mess with something like this so the plan was simple: make a PSA about a subject, market it to a non-profit group and use their non-profit status to get the PSA on the air with local TV stations. My first spot was simply about rescue and adoption and I marketed it to a local no kill shelter called “The Ark.” I’m honestly not sure how much air time it got but since I was told it was “in the rotation,” that just led me to making more.

In the years since I started, my method has not changed. I think of a concept I think people either should know about or may want to know about, I develop a PSA using photographs contributed by friends of mine, I record an audio track and I find a non-profit to review a draft and let me know if they’re willing to affiliate themselves with the message. Most do. It takes very little time for them and I do the legwork. Some, however, do not. I did one about dog aggression last year which I offered to a “pit bull” advocacy group. They said, “no thanks” for reasons I never quite understood so I let a German Shepherd rescue use it instead. In the end, it’s as much about the message as it is about the group. The end goal for me as a keyboarder is the same as that of my web site: try to reach people, tell them something and then hope they reconsider previously held beliefs and perhaps behave differently in the future.

So. How difficult is this? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 4. The years when the FCC required TV stations to devote X amount of air time to non-profits are long gone. When you see an animal-oriented PSA on TV now, it is most likely something done either by The Ad Council or by some multi-million dollar group which is paying big money to get air time showing a female Canadian songstress (who shall remain nameless) sitting on a couch with a dog which may or may not belong to her. Most local animal welfare or advocacy groups don’t run PSAs because of the perceived potential cost involved. What I’ve found is that it really is not expensive at all and the majority of the “work” is in fostering relationships with TV stations – it’s all about good will and persistence. Stations will not run material they find too “out there” or objectionable. It has to be a message they support and my personal slant is to steer clear of the doom, gloom and guilt and go either for the humor or just the “do the right thing” type of message. Developing and submitting a PSA is totally doable even for a small, local group. You develop a spot, make sure you can put it in a format the station will accept, you plead your case for why they should run it, you thank them profusely and then you just work to keep that relationship healthy. One of my contacts here has a dog he rescued in Nebraska years ago. When I sent him my latest group of spots, I also sent him some home made dog biscuits. His dog liked them so much he ended up begging for them. The dog, not the guy. Good will prevails.

So. How much does this cost? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 1 or a 2, depending on what resources you have available already. When I started doing this, I had a refurbed laptop, some twenty dollar slide show software, a cheap microphone and a DVD burner. I now have a newer laptop, some fifty dollar software, another cheap microphone and my same DVD burner. As long as you have a computer, some software which allows you to make slide shows (or even videos) and a way to burn DVDs, you’re pretty much set other than for postage to mail out your PSA. You can avoid that expense if you deliver your PSA to local stations.

So. Where do I get the content? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give this one a 2. You cannot, cannot, cannot use copyrighted material. As tempted as you may be to use a catchy tune, you just can’t get away with that unless you wrote it, recorded it, published it and produced it yourself, making you the sole copyright holder. When it comes to PSAs, I find that a spoken audio track does better anyway. A lot of people don’t actually watch TV when it’s on and if you speak what you want them to hear, your message is more likely to be heard. If you use photographs like I do, just get them from friends or take them yourself. Steer clear of Googling for them or just “borrowing” them from Flickr and keep in mind that you really must use high quality digital photos. You may get some great shots from friends, but be mindful of the fact that most TV stations now broadcast in high definition so the better the image you can provide, the better the likelihood that your PSA will air.

If you’re a 501(c)(3) and you’d like to get a PSA on the air, or you work with a non-profit and want to help them get a PSA on the air, you really can do it. For further information on how to get your PSA “in the rotation,” visit the See Spot Run page on my web site for some more tidbits under the “Spot Help!” link. When in doubt, drop me a line via my site and I’ll be happy to help you in any way I can. You know life’s too short to live it in fear. Go ahead. Do something stupid. You never know how well it might turn out.

Aubrie Kavanaugh


Check Aubrie’s latest interview with PackPeople

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