The power of PSAs

No distractions: Texting while driving can cause you to lose your concentration and ultimately result in an accident.

TEXTING while driving is a reckless thing to do. Should we crack down on this by heavier fines? Or can words and images make a difference?

Is it enough for a headline to shout out PLS DNT TXT+DRIVE? Communication experts have been wrestling with questions like these for decades.

How can a message make people aware of certain risks but also opportunities? What information is relevant? In our example, should the message mention that texting takes your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds? How do we change people’s attitude so they will think or feel differently about the problem? Can we persuade them to change their actions so they will concentrate on driving, recycling plastic bottles or donating blood?

Research has found that communication in the form of general-interest messages, or public service announcements can help achieve these goals. Public service announcements, or PSAs for short, are announcements made in the service of the general public and are aired or printed without charge. They aim to create awareness, influence attitudes and change actions.

Now that you know what PSA means, and what it tries to accomplish, how can your four-strong team go about making one? Effective communication requires research and planning, so that’s where our five-step process begins.

Find out more about the theme and your audience

It’s one thing to say ‘We are Malaysia’ but another to ‘do it’. What challenges and opportunities do we face as a young multi-ethnic and multicultural nation? When researching the theme, be specific about the people you want to reach. Is your PSA meant for schoolchildren, working parents, or business owners?

Harness the strengths of your team

In crafting your PSA, it is important to balance individual and group creativity. Everyone contributes but not necessarily by doing the same thing at the same time. And don’t forget that someone will have to coordinate the team effort. Creativity involves generating ideas, combining ideas in novel ways, selecting the one idea that will make your entry stand out, and finally, executing that one idea by producing the actual poster or photo ad.

Create a strong message

The message consists of a headline, body copy and optionally a tagline. Every word has to earn its place so stay focussed on that one central message your PSA is all about. Use simple and concrete words where possible. Writing out loud helps you check how natural your words sound.

Use a compelling visual

Choose a high-quality photograph or illustration to support your core message and to give it an extra dimension. Be original and shoot or draw your own visuals. Fit all elements into a consistent layout, using no more than three fonts for the words.

Here’s a tip. Many successful PSAs combine a straight headline with a humorous, unexpected or puzzling picture.

Draft and redraft

Creative people burn more calories. You may come up with a brilliant idea for a new headline as you are finalising your poster layout. Exploring options and sometimes starting all over will produce the best results.

If there were one ‘golden rule’, it would be to keep things simple, not just in the message but also in your design and choice of visuals.

Remember these five steps and you will not only be able to create an outstanding PSA but also enjoy the teamwork. You’ll also appreciate that when done well, PSAs are powerful forms of communication. They can motivate people to pull over when texting and also, as in this contest, unite as a nation.

Next week: Jenny Heng from Taylor’s University coaches you on how to make your PSA more appealing by writing a great headline, body copy and slogan all while choosing the best visual to go along with it.

This year’s brand new NiE contest concept is titled We Are Malaysia. Students – working in groups of four – are required to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) in the form of a poster conveying a strong character-building message about what it means to be united as a nation.

The poster can be crafted using either photography or illustration and must be accompanied with a suitable headline, body copy and slogan.

Grand prizes include a five-day study trip to Britain sponsored by Taylor’s University for the Secondary category. The Primary category grand prize winners win a three-day, two-night all expenses paid trip to Universal Studios Singapore sponsored by The Star. Samsung phone vouchers worth RM1,000 are up for grabs in the runners-up category too.

This contest is open to primary and secondary schools in Malaysia and is supported by the Education Ministry. Contest closes on June 19. For more information on the contest, visit our contest website:

The Power of PSAs –Awareness, Attitudes and Action

Learn the basics of Public Service Announcements and what they try to accomplish in the first article of three from academics in Taylor’s University.

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