Taxpayers Dig Deep For Cuomo’s TV Ads

Barry_weekly_080114If television has taught New Yorkers anything, it is that we’re living in the “new” New York, we’re “better than before,” and out-of-state businesses are rushing to move here.

This is nonsense but, in a remarkable five-page memo issued recently by the state’s Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the Cuomo administration acknowledged the ESDC spent $161 million in taxpayer monies repeatedly promoting these messages on TV over the past few years, and in other ways (e.g., radio, direct-mail). The ESDC is unrepentant about what it did, even suggesting they’d shown restraint, explaining on the memo’s first page that the state Legislature authorized them to spend $200 million for these purposes, and the federal government approved another $37.5 million.

“Andrew Cuomo has taken more than a quarter-billion dollars of taxpayer money and put it into television advertising for his own political gain,” Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, and the Republican-Conservative nominee for governor said, after the numbers were unveiled. In fairness to the Cuomo administration, $237.5 million is less than $250 million, but Astorino is close enough and, given the ESDC’s track record, the quarter-billion-dollar threshold could be exceeded at some point.

Now, not one of the TV ads featured the governor’s image. Yet the relentlessness of the TV spots — they’ve aired endlessly for months at a time — surely drove traffic to advertised websites where Governor Cuomo is prominently featured, like www.thenewny.com. But that’s not even the main point. The goal among the governor’s advisors is to create certain feelings among the populace. Perhaps millions of dollars in advertising can convince voters New York’s economy is soaring (because of the “new” New York), post-Sandy rebuilding has left the Empire State “better than before,” and business owners in places like Arizona have seen the error of their ways and decided a brighter future awaits near a State University of New York (SUNY) campus (START-UP NY).

A national audience was also reached through significant TV ad purchases on CNBC, CNN and MSNBC, the memo noted. Combining the national buys with its more local purchases, the Media-TV and Radio Advertisements budget line accounted for nearly $114 million of the ESDC’s $161 million tab. These expenditures are breathtaking, and placed the ESDC alongside phone companies, auto manufacturers and personal-injury lawyers, among the largest financial supporters of the region’s cable and broadcast television industries.

“The advertising was created and placed by BBDO, a nationally known advertising agency selected through a Request for Proposal [RFP] bid process conducted by ESD [Empire State Development], and approved by the State Comptroller’s Office,” the ESDC memo stated.

The RFP respondents at BBDO surely deserve a raise, or at least a nice bonus. BBDO has received $8.1 million from New York State’s taxpayers for the administrative and creative services BBDO rendered through June 30, 2014, according to the ESDC’s five-page memo, which was billed as “New York State Business Development and Tourism Marketing Program.” The memorandum also offered a spirited defense of the millions of taxpayer dollars allocated for ESDC’s I Love NY tourism advertising. Yup, without the ESDC’s guidance, New Yorkers would never have known Baseball’s Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, or that Montauk might be a nice place to visit in the summer.

None of the ESDC advertising figures would have come to light without the efforts of two aggressive media outlets, Capital New York and Gannett News Service. Both organizations sought for months to get a public accounting from the ESDC about how much the state had spent on these unprecedented, multi-year business and tourism ad campaigns. Given the extent of its spending spree, is it any wonder why the Cuomo administration was in no rush to share this information with taxpayers?

Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBarry@optonline.net

Mike Barry
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at mfbarry@optonline.net. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.

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