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How to Create an Effective PSA

How to Create an Effective PSA

By Aaron Broverman

I was one of those kids who was mostly raised by a combination of babysitters and television. As a result, one of my most effective parents in the 1990s was Concerned Children’s Advertisers (now Companies Committed to Kids).

Its award-winning PSAs (public service announcements) like “House Hippo,” “Don’t Put It In Your Mouth” and “Rehab” taught me not to believe everything I saw on TV, always ask someone I loved before I put anything strange in my mouth and do what I could to stop my friends from using drugs.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015, Companies Committed to Kids (C.C.K.) is a non-profit consortium of some of the biggest companies and broadcasters in Canada, such as McDonald’s, Mattel, PepsiCo., Bell Globemedia, Corus Entertainment and Shaw Communications, banding together to work with educators and experts to help kids navigate some of the biggest issues they deal with.

These days C.C.K. covers topics like self-esteem, bullying and its latest, mental wellness, but back in the day, stranger danger, child abuse and drugs were also a part of that mix.

I spoke to Anne Lovegrove, C.C.K.’s Chief Program Officer, to find out what goes into the creation and promotion of these memorable PSAs that still stick with me to this day.

It Starts with Research

The most important thrust of any C.C.K. PSA is the message behind it. How it discovers what that message should be is through copious amounts of research done by issue experts.

For its latest campaign on children’s mental wellness, C.C.K. enlisted the help of Dr. Wendy Craig, interim head of the department of psychology at Queen’s University, and bullying expert Dr. Debra Pepler from York University to conduct a research review about children’s mental wellness in Canada.

“That research review was the catalyst to get us thinking about the most effective strategy and what we need to do moving forward and that’s always where it begins,” says Lovegrove.

Quality Resources

Everything C.C.K. does is in the spirit of collaboration. As such, the marketing vice-presidents and directors from some of the biggest companies in Canada donate their time to sit on C.C.K.’s Creative Committee and volunteer their Rolodex of ad agency contacts.

“There is some pretty amazing marketing talent there and we also pepper the committee with our issue experts. We all sit together and talk about the research and where it’s leading us and as a group come up with the direction that we approach the assigned agency with,” she continues.

Agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather, Vickers & Benson and Publicis donate their time pro bono. They’re assigned the PSA and are involved in all creative committee discussions.

“Some of these companies on the committee are competitors, but they’re all working toward a common goal. It’s really great to have that collaboration between a doctor who is a psychologist and marketers who know how to touch consumers, parents and kids and make messages impactful.”

Making it Timeless

With free top-tier resources at their disposal, C.C.K. has an embarrassment of riches, so how do they pick one PSA idea over another?

“We evaluate the concepts based on which answers the strategy the best and the strategy is completely rooted in the research,” says Lovegrove.

“The issue experts look at it from the perspective of which one will advance the issue the way that’s needed and we marry that with the insights from the marketers, saying which one is going to break through the clutter and make sure people stop in their tracks and listen to the message. So it’s a very interesting dialogue and eventually we come to a consensus on both sides before testing it with kids and parents.”

But because everyone involved is donating their time, C.C.K. can’t afford to do a PSA every year, so they have to take steps to make sure their messages look and feel timeless.

“We try to make sure that whatever we dress our actors in is not trendy. From their hair to their wardrobe and their dialogue, we try to keep it simple and everyone knows that airing this for years to come is in mind,” Lovegrove stresses.

Targeted Awareness

In the same way C.C.K. leans on its member companies for free production resources, it also leans on them for free promotion. In the same way there’s a creative committee deciding the best concept for an issue, there is also a public relations committee deciding the best way to promote it and raise awareness.

“For our children’s mental wellness campaign, our research told us that the most impact comes from the parents understanding that they have an effect on their child’s mental wellness. So, for the first time in our history, we targeted parents with our message, with kids being secondary.”

This new direction brought new strategies from the PR Committee in terms of who to target, so the spot was seen by the right audience.

“Mommy bloggers fit into the target when we talk about parents, so the committee was very specific as to areas we need to go to try and get this message across to. In some cases, they even lent us their existing relationships with specific outlets.”

More Powerful Together

At the end of the day, Lovegrove sees the magic of Customers Committed to Kids in the way Canada’s largest companies put competition aside for the benefit of the country’s children.

“I’m so blessed to be sitting amongst eight to ten different member companies at a time asking, ‘How do we make kids’ lives better? What do we need to do differently?’”

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