From time to time it’s good to keep in mind specific network guidelines when producing public service announcements.

According to network standards, public service announcements (PSAs) are meant to inform the public of the work of charitable, governmental, and non-profit organizations and other services available to the public. Such announcements must reflect the true nature of the organization identified with the announcement, and all claims must be substantiated. Discussions of controversial issues of public importance and religious doctrine are not permitted in public service announcements.

Guidelines

I.  Appropriateness of Submitting Organization

A.  Organizations requesting PSA scheduling must be non-profit or governmental. Requesting organizations are reviewed to determine their non-profit status, objectives, activities, and financial policies.

B.  Non-profit organizations should be in compliance with the guidelines of the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Wise Giving Alliance (See www.give.org).

C.  As a general matter, to qualify for use on the networks, the organization and its message must be national in scope and serve the needs of an extensive part of the United States.

D.  As a general rule, material from trade or professional associations is not acceptable as public service announcements. Such material is often self-serving and frequently repetitive of other public service messages.

II.  Content of Message

A.  PSAs must be consistent with the objectives of the sponsoring organization and must be in the public interest.

B.  PSAs must fully comply with all applicable network policies and government regulations.

C.  PSAs must be tastefully presented and of appropriate production value.

D.  No commercial products, services, or corporate names may be shown or referenced in PSAs.

E.  PSAs in which funds are requested will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but, absent special public interest considerations, are generally not acceptable. Direct solicitation of funds is not acceptable in PSAs where the airtime is being donated by the networks.

III.  Sale of Commercial Time for Public Service Announcements

A.  In addition to the acceptance and scheduling of PSAs without charge, paid commercials for, or on behalf of, non-profit and not-for-profit organizations are permitted on a case-by-case basis.

B.  Organizations must meet the same standards that otherwise apply to PSAs.

C.  The identity of the sponsor must be clearly set forth in the commercial as well as the fact that the message was “paid for” or “sponsored by” such sponsor.

IV.  Union Obligations and Public Service Announcements

PSAs featuring SAG-AFTRA members or produced by a signatory to the SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract must be produced in accordance with the terms of the PSA waiver provisions in Section 18 of the SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract. If the requirements of the waiver are met, residuals (i.e., use fees) otherwise typically due to performers will be waived. The requirements of the waiver are set forth below:

A.  The commercial/PSA must be produced by or on behalf of a government agency, charity, public service organization or museum;

B.  You must receive SAG-AFTRA’s consent before seeking a performer’s consent to use the PSA waiver (and only celebrities can waive the session fee);

C.  Media time to broadcast the PSA must be donated time; and

D.  PSA cannot contain any sponsor logos.

The networks and SAG-AFTRA have strict policies regarding public service announcements. So, if you have plans to create PSAs, make sure the advertising complies with the network guidelines and SAG-AFTRA requirements, where applicable. And remember, when it doubt, ask questions.

Marilyn Colaninno is Director of Rights and Clearances for Reed Smith and is responsible for clearing commercials for the firm’s many clients in the advertising industry. If you have specific questions, please contact Marilyn directly at 212-549-0347 or at mcolaninno@reedsmith.com.

Michael Isselin is an associate in the Entertainment and Media Industry Group.  If you have specific questions, please contact Michael directly at 212-549-0359 or at misselin@reedsmith.com.

Stacy Marcus is a partner in the Entertainment and Media Industry Group.  Stacy is also the chief negotiator for the Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Union Relations, the multi-employer bargaining unit for the advertising industry that negotiates the multi-billion dollar commercials collective bargaining agreements with SAG-AFTRA and the American Federation of Musicians.  If you have specific questions, please contact Stacy directly at 212-549-0446 or at smarcus@reedsmith.com.