Bet you didn’t know: the Ad Council and public service campaigns
Posted by Mary Fletcher Jones
Do you sometimes see or hear a public service announcement that is produced by the Ad Council for a nonprofit organization or a government agency?
Did you assume that the nonprofit organization or agency received that public service announcement for free?
I did. Until this week. But I was wrong about that.
The Ad Council takes credit for these campaigns, and the public perception is that the Ad Council is responsible for them. For example, NPR just recognized them for 70 years of “Ad Council campaigns.”
But the truth is, the campaigns are initiated by other nonprofit organizations or the federal government; advertising agencies (such as BBDO and Arnold) contribute the creative at no cost; and the advertising space is donated by publishers that can’t sell the space (the leftovers) and broadcasters, who are mandated as a condition of their license to allot a certain percentage of their broadcast time to airing public service announcements.
You won’t see these nonprofits, government agencies, and advertising agencies getting much credit from the Ad Council on the Ad Council Facebook Page, however (at least, not until I mentioned it yesterday!) The Ad Council claims the campaigns as their own — and they also take credit for the impact. And I don’t think that’s right.
So if the Ad Council doesn’t come up with the idea, execute it creatively, or pay for advertising space, what is the Ad Council’s contribution? And is it fair for them to claim these campaigns as their own, as well as their impact to the community?
Well, the Ad Council does make a contribution, for a price. It actually charges some pretty hefty fees to federal agencies and nonprofit organizations for “managing” the production and distribution of PSAs. In most cases, this “sponsorship” amounts to many thousands of dollars. The agencies and nonprofits are expected to assume all costs of production (which the Ad Council expenses to the IRS – seems odd to me!). The nonprofits and agencies also pay project management fees paid to the Ad Council. For example, Autism Speaks paid the Ad Council $844,000 in fees in a recent year (as reported to the IRS).
Maybe that’s a great price for what Autism Speaks received that year, I don’t know. But I’d be curious to know what exactly they were paying for, if the creative and space were already donated. Stock photography? Or maybe it helped pay for the Ad Council president’s $862,000 annual compensation package.
Did I mention that the Ad Council was a nonprofit organization? How do you feel about a nonprofit organization paying its CEO $862,000? Still consider them benevolent?
In their most recent tax report, the Ad Council claims that it received nearly $32 million in program revenue from nonprofits and federal agencies, as well as nearly $9 million in donations and grants.
What is your opinion now of the Ad Council? And do you think they should take credit for these public service campaigns?
- The Ad Council: 70 Years Of Good Advice (npr.org)
- Ad Council Celebrates Seventy Years of Impacting American Lives Through Public Service Advertising (multivu.com)
About Mary Fletcher JonesMary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.
Posted on March 17, 2012, in Advertising Tips, Nonprofit Marketing Tips and tagged Ad Council, Advertising, Autism Speaks, Nonprofit organization, Public service announcement. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.