doctor public serviceHospitals, as well as some medical practices, can use public service advertising (PSA) to communicate “messages in the public interest.” The good new and the bad news about public service tools in healthcare marketing is that it’s free. Well…that is to say, it’s nearly free.

There’s no charge for any broadcast time or print ad space, which can be a big slice of a paid advertising budget. But there is at least a modest cost to create, duplicate and distribute the community-service messages.

Unlike paid advertising, the PSA tradeoff means you have virtually no control of the schedule. The time, frequency and/or duration of your announcement are at the complete discretion of the media.

So… exactly how do you put together a public service advertising campaign that’s actually effective? Here are some of the top tips to leverage PSAs for the greatest impact:

Deliver precisely what each media outlet wants. Each media outlet—broadcast or print—has someone responsible for public service. Make a personal contact and create your materials in exactly the form and format that the media specifies and uses most frequently for their audience.

Involve media people and get them onboard. Advise your media contacts about important public service campaigns—let’s say a major annual event. Ask for their support and extra emphasis for PSA messages for the limited-time campaign period.

Good-to-great creative materials win more exposure. Broadcast and print media outlets will favor—and give more exposure to—good quality, professionally prepared public service material. Poorly produced material, as well as controversial topics or issues, will be avoided.

You’re not the only rodeo in town. Competition for public service time/space is tough. You may not be going head-to-head with another hospital, but other non-profit organizations are asking for the media’s attention and “free” availability.

Focus your public service message. A PSA campaign may include both radio and TV announcement, in various lengths, and print ads in various sizes. Regardless of the various forms, format and length, have a consistent message and call to action. Make your message memorable, brief and to the point.

Be prepared to track. The media may not provide a schedule or performance report as they do for paid advertising. Incorporating a tracking method, such as a phone number, can help monitor PSA performance.

Tap into other (no cost) options. In addition to public service announcements, broadcast stations often have other options. These might include public affairs programs, which are longer form, interview or discussion programs; or feature news segments by special community focus reporters, for example.

Bonus ideas…

Use the communications channels that you already own. Post your public service announcement information on your website, blog, Facebook page, YouTube Channel, etc. And support your healthcare marketing PSA campaign efforts with appropriate news releases.