By Pat Chappell and Charles Warner

A Project of The Goldenson Program

University of Missouri School of Journalism


This manual is designed to help broadcast community service/public affairs professionals plan and implement successful community service/public affairs projects. It offers guidance for planning, implementing, and evaluating projects.

It contains checklists and planning questions that will help you clarify, organize, and prioritize your ideas.

Use this manual to evaluate, organize and expand on plans already in place and to help you coordinate projects with other departments in your station. It will be a useful planner for everyone involved.


Electronic Media a few years ago asked several General Managers of number-one stations in both large and small markets what were the main challenges facing stations in the 1990s. And while all were worried about containing operating expenses, their major concern was the problem of differentiating their station in an increasingly fragmented marketplace.

So, whether the problem is defining a niche in the market, or distinguishing a station in an area of heavy cable penetration, more and more marketing-oriented general managers are coming to the same conclusion: Localism, is the answer. Not just airing public service announcements, but producing projects that provide significant service to the community is the key to meaningful differentiation, audience dominance, and economic growth.

The industry has changed dramatically in recent years. Competition is more aggressive and sophisticated than ever for the attention of viewers. When asked to name "the station most involved in the community," viewers are no longer automatically naming the once-dominant traditional network affiliates.

Connecting with the community has become a crucial priority for many of these traditional stations, as well as for many aggressive non-traditional stations. By developing a strategy of producing exciting, interesting and profitable community service projects, many stations have intervened in community problems in ways that have energized their public-service images, increased viewership, increased news ratings, generated revenue, and made a difference in the community's quality of life.

Any community service/public affairs project begins with an idea and a plan. On the following page is a planning checklist...the perfect place to begin.


  1. Review your organization's mission statement.
    1. Is it formalized--written? Do you have a copy?
    2. Does management manage to the mission, or is the mission statement merely a public-relations tool? If so, what is the implied mission, current values, and culture of the company that relate to community service projects? Are there issues, topics, strategies that might be taboo?
  2. Review your organization's stated goals (long term and short term) for carrying out the mission.
    1. Are the goals clearly defined and both shared and understood by all departments?
    2. Are the goals prioritized, i.e. profits above everything else, sales and marketing above serving the community, news integrity above sales?
  3. Review your organization's strategies for accomplishing its goals.
    1. Differentiation or niche marketing?
    2. Hard-edged, sensational action; journal-of-record, service orientation or soft and warm "we-care" news image?
    3. Anchor driven, anchor involvement, and promotion?
    4. Revenue generation above all else?
  4. Review your organization's capabilities.
    1. What are your station's resources and strengths? Are they being fully utilized?
    2. Is the culture one that enhances or impedes cooperation?
    3. Who are the station people outside of your department who are on top of/in front of the issues?
    4. Whose cooperation do you need for a project to succeed?
    5. Are you getting the on-the-street experience of your news department?
  5. Review your department's capabilities.
    1. Are you meeting the expectations of station management?
    2. Are your department goals prioritized in line with station goals?
    3. Are your goals reasonable in light of available resources? Specific? Measurable? Achievable? Relevant? Timely? (SMART goals)
  6. Survey the competition.
    1. What is your competition doing?
    2. What can your sales/marketing department tell you about the competition?
    3. Does your competition have strong allies/partners in the community?
    4. What are the strengths/weaknesses of your competition? How can you take advantage of their weaknesses/avoid their strengths?
    5. Do your competitors have an image in the marketplace? Define it.
    6. How is your competition perceived by advertisers/community leaders/viewers vs. how you are perceived?
  7. Develop a positioning statement for your station.
  8. Research the community and your station's target audience.
    1. Who are the leading organizations in your community? Who seems to get things done?
    2. Who is on top if/in front of issues? Get to know them if you don't already.
    3. What are the economic realities of your community? How strong is the economy?
    4. Who are your potential allies/partners? Do they know/like/respect your work?
    5. What can your sales department tell you about advertiser support?
    6. What is the level of activism in your community? How powerful are special interest groups?
    7. What is the demographic/ethnic/political make-up of your community?
    8. Who are the station's core viewing audience? What is their socio-economic class? Lifestyles?


Defining the problem is the first key to whether or not a campaign will work.

When you ask questions about appropriate topics inside and outside the station, you are actually expanding whatever formal ascertainment process you may already have in place.

Check all possible sources of information, find the experts, because the more you understand about community problems the better you can target your efforts.

As you narrow and refine your topic, you will be developing the following information:

1.     A description of the problem: Where is the need?

2.     A description of who is affected: Potential target audiences and other constituencies.

3.     A list of existing programs, activities, gaps in services, and what organizations have goals that coincide with your own.

4.     A list of available resources, both inside and outside of your station.


Your action plan is the heart of your station campaign. It can be the hardest part of the process, and it is often skipped over in the rush to get to the fun part--the production phase. But being clear about the goals of your project and its target audience will prevent you from organizing a campaign that is vague, diffuse, and unsuccessful.

A major part of the planning process is developing an effective strategy, which begins with choosing the right name for the project. Many stations use umbrella themes that cover several topics. However, umbrella names such as "Family 2 Family" do not precisely define a project.

In order for a project to be promotable, its name must clearly communicate to people what it is about and why viewers should be interested. For example, a project titled "We Care" might be about education, but how is a viewer to know? Generally, umbrella themes and broad, generic project names do not have as much impact nor are as memorable as specific, highly descriptive ones. Giving a project a highly promotable, memorable (short) name goes a long way towards its success. A good name also helps in crafting an integrated marketing communications campaign for all media.

Some stations pursue a strategy of owning a particular topic--making it theirs in the perception of viewers. Many of these stations run the same project year after year, or at least for several years in a row. These stations make their nameplate project the cornerstone of their community service/public affairs commitment. They might do other public service campaigns for a short time, but their overwhelming effort is on one major, long-term project that they want viewers to associate with their station. This is brand and image building in addition to serving a community need.

Another strategy is to produce relatively short-term projects that addressed a current, pressing need of the community. There is no attempt to dominate one particular topic and build image in that manner, but to be perceived overall as a station that cares about the community.

Projects and campaigns that do not appeal to a station's primary target audience should probably be relatively short ones. A station's most effective projects, and ones that should be long-term, are ones that appeal directly to a station's target audience. Remember, no station in a competitive market (more than three television stations) can win by trying to appeal to everyone.


Each station has its own structure and its own way of getting things done. If you completed your planning checklist you already have a pretty good idea what will work.

Start with a presentation to your general manager on the importance of doing a project. Then, sell other department heads on the idea in a group meeting. You may want to talk with other department heads individually to get them on board and supportive of your idea before a meeting.

Perhaps your main news anchor would be interested in getting involved and could lend support to your ideas. Trial and error may be the only way to find the correct tactics for selling the project, unless there is someone who can tell you how things have been decided in the past.

One thing is for sure: if you've done your research, have your facts and figures close at hand, and have selected a problem of real community concern, you will do a better job of selling your ideas. Make sure those who need to be involved understand the level of support for your idea in the community.

Your most important allies, in order of importance are: the sales department, the marketing/promotion department, the news department, and the production department.

When your research is finished, you are ready to do the following:


  1. Define the outcome goals for the project.
    1. Be specific: Do you want to increase public awareness, generate phone calls, recruit volunteers, or influence legislation? 
  2. Define the primary and secondary target audience and affected constituencies.
  3. Develop your themes/messages.
    1. What are you going to say to which target audience to get them to do what?
  4. Define your programming, promotion, and production strategies.
    1. Develop ideas for public service campaigns, news series, community outreach activities, client involvement, documentaries, and other special programs.
    2. Decide if you need another media partner: a radio station or a newspaper. It is usually best to avoid partners unless it is a major project--something akin to a civic journalism campaign. 
  5. Develop time lines, assignments, and budgets.
    1. Organize this information on an overview or planning worksheet.

            In developing an action plan, you should not have been working alone. You must involve producers, other department personnel and, if possible, on-air talent. And whether these meetings have been formal or informal, there must be general agreement about time frames and assignments.


News departments can be terrific supporters or the bane of your existence, and there are no easy answers on how to get news departments to buy into a project.

The news department has very real concerns about journalistic prerogatives, and you need to think in terms of how to present good news pegs, or hooks, that might evolve out of a project your station is planning.

Develop several public relations angles, and remember the advice you give to community organizations for dealing with news operations:

- Building relationships with news takes time.

- Build your relationships one-on-one.

- Pass along good story ideas that have nothing to do with your project.

- Try to position yourself as a resource for news.

- Take rejection with a smile and come right back with another good idea.


Now, for the fun part: packaging and marketing your project.

Your first step is to take the time lines and assignments you have prepared and turn them into a project planning worksheet. This might take the form of a memo, a wall calendar or a routine report to involved staff. Whatever the format, keep it simple, but make sure it contains the following information: 1) project goals, 2) completion deadlines, 3) departments involved, task and project coordinators, and 4) who is responsible for completing what by when.

Remember: this plan is a document in progress that needs to change and develop as your project develops.

On the following page is a sample project plan.

            Parenting Project


o To help parents develop better parenting skills.

o To promote access to existing services in the community.

Time Line:

Month/Date    Event/Program           Depts.              Contact

Jan. 5               Kick-Off                     PubAffs, Judy CreatServ, Sam

Jan. 15             News Series                News                           Bill B.

Feb. 10            Live Remote               Progrmng        Sue C, School #56            Engineerng, Fred

Feb. 12            Poster Contest             CreatServ                    Sam                

                         PSAs begin                PubAffs                       Judy

Mar. 1             Debut on air                Sales               Tom



Some projects can be underwritten completely by the station. This model makes organization relatively easy and uncomplicates the question of who gets credit for what. However, most station general managers look to community service projects to generate revenue, and certainly will approve ones that can be sold before ones that cannot.

Also, projects that are more ambitious generally cost more, and, therefore, they sometimes require several financial partners to help spread the costs.

Increasingly, stations are viewing their public affairs projects as opportunities to tap into non-traditional sources of funding (other than advertising budgets) or to provide an entree to dealing with corporations that do not regularly advertise in the broadcast media.

Underwriting or sponsorship can bring to a project additional manpower, contacts, distribution opportunities and, as stations are discovering, profits.

A sponsor will expect appropriate recognition, both on and off the air. It is not uncommon for them to be highlighted, along with your station, on all project material. When dealing with sponsors you can expect to be asked the following questions:

1. Can sponsors have their names or logos on public service announcements?

2. How much input does the sponsor have to program and project content?

3. Does the sponsor get bonus spots for time they purchase on your air to promote this project?

These are issues you need to be prepared to deal with and negotiate with your own station management as well as with a sponsor. Well-designed plans will have considered and resolved how to deal with these issues before contacting a potential sponsor.

What this means to a public affairs director is a closer working relationship with your sales and marketing departments than you may have had in the past. It also means you need to be familiar with and be prepared to do more complex budgeting, provide information for sales one-sheets, and even make sales calls with your account executives.


If you've never done a one-sheet, they should contain the following kinds of information and look something like this:

Parenting Tips

What are Parenting Tips?

A series of 12 parenting tips will be hosted by Sally Service, education reporter for KXYZ news, and could run as a commercial schedule. Each spot will end with the phrase: "this parenting tip brought to you by (sponsor's name) who agrees with KXYZ that being a good parent creates a great future for our kids." These parenting tips will also promote a printed brochure that could be available at a sponsor's outlets and at KXYZ.

What will KXYZ do?

o          Develop the creative and produce all spots.

o          Write the brochure copy.

o          Provide graphic design and furnish camera-ready art for the printer.

What does the sponsor do?

o          Pays for the commercial schedule.

o          Pays for the printing of the brochure.

o          Distributes brochures through its retail outlets.

Why should clients get involved? What will they get?

o          This package is part of Project Parenting, a long-term station effort that will bring a sponsor visibility with a segment of the audience important to the marketing of their product.

o          Close identification with a station with a proven track record in service to the community.

o          Positive association with an issue that market research indicates is a top concern for area residents.

o          Exclusivity in sponsoring this aspect of Project Parenting.


Every station has a different approach to budgeting and how it wants to account for certain costs. At some stations the cost of a producer's time or photographer's time or the cost of using post-production facilities would not be charged to a project budget because they are already on staff or part of the facilities used by everyone.

In other stations, an intricate policy of project budgeting forces the accounting of every individual hour that is spent on any particular project.

You will need to learn about the budgeting procedures at your station if you do not already know them.

In planning a budget, you need to think through each separate component of your project and what it will take to get it done. To simplify planning, divide the budget into on-air and off-air components. Not every element will have dollars filled in on every line.

Here are some budget development tips:

1. Production managers and accounting people are excellent sources of budget information--make them your pals.

2. Have each department that is contributing to the project do its own budget estimates.

3. Be sure to consult with the sales department on any budget figures that pertain to sponsors.

4. Marketing/promotion departments are whizzes at quick estimates for printing needs and promotional items such as buttons, posters, T-shirts, etc.

On the next page is a sample budget form to show you one way it can be done.



Host _____________________

Producer _________________

Director _________________

Assoc. Prod. _____________

Photographer(s) __________


Editor ___________________

Post Prod. _______________

Other ____________________

Personnel Costs:                                                         $ _______________


Equipment, Supplies, Travel

Videotape ________________

Misc. Supplies ___________

Equip. Rental ____________

Shipping _________________

Transportation/Travel ____

Meals ____________________

Equipment, Supplies, Travel Costs:                     $ _______________


Outside Contractors                                              $ _______________

Total Production Costs:                                        $ _______________




Graphic Design ______

Posters _____________

Flyers/Brochures ____

Banners/Display _____

Pins/Buttons ________

Novelty _____________

Other _______________

Printing Costs:                                                $ _______________


Postage/Shipping _________                         $ _______________

Stationary/Supplies ______                           $ _______________

Food/Business Conferences                           $ _______________

Travel/Transportation ____                           $ _______________

Awards/Gifts _____________                       $ _______________ 


Catering _________________          

Set-Up ___________________

Hall Rental ______________

Entertainment ____________

Celebration Costs:                                          $ _______________


Outside Consultants :                                     $ _______________

Total Event Costs :                                         $ _______________

Total Project Cost:                                         $ _______________


Return to the original project plan. Ask yourself the following questions: 

1.     Is your project consistent with the image and goals of your station?

2.     Who will act as project coordinator for the project? For your department? For others? Do you need an action team?

3.     Who is responsible for and how are you going to monitor progress and give feedback to those who are involved in the project?

4.     How often are you going to review your progress?

5.     Have you allowed for mid-course corrections, changes to the plan and taking advantage of opportunities that arise during the project?

6.     What kind of recognition or thanks will you give to those who are involved (remember, you budgeted for that)?


If you followed the above advice and checklists, and did most things right, here are some of the things that should happen at the end of the project:


      1. A revitalized community ascertainment process that brought in new ideas, new resources, important new contacts for the station, the news department, and program producers.
      2. New-to-the medium corporate underwriting dollars and the cooperation and appreciation of the sales department.
      3. Prime time exposure for a relevant, important community service project.
      4. Improved inter-station relationships resulted in a station-wide project that increased the feeling of cooperation among all departments.
      5. Overall increased ratings for the station, especially for news programs.
      6. An audience survey of attitudes showed that a majority of people voted the station their number-one community friend.
      7. A station project that not only won community recognition and awards, but also increased all employees' sense of pride in serving their community.