Over the past few months, we’ve asked Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) questions about how they spend ratepayer dollars on advertising and sponsorships. Stay tuned for a future Springs Taxpayers United article about sponsorships. Right now, we’ll focus exclusively on the CSU advertising budget.
We wondered why a monopoly utility needs to advertise at all. No one in their service area has a choice on which utility to use.
The local advertising company Vladmir Jones handles the advertising account for CSU. Through a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request, we asked for all of the 2022 advertising expenditures. Vladmir Jones invoices totaled $1,135,730.
Here are the categories, and amounts spent on each ad category:
We asked CSU Spokesman Steve Berry and CSU Board President Wayne Williams for clarification, writing:
“I’d appreciate comments from both of you about the CSU sponsorships, as well as why such a significant amount of advertising is spent for a public utility that is a monopoly. Why can’t announcements be passed to customers through the website and mailers instead of spending over $1.2 million on advertising?”
Mr. Berry responded:
Colorado Springs Utilities informs and educates customers about a number of critical services that we offer such as water and energy conservation programs, cost saving tips, safety tips, payment programs, rebates, small business programs and more. It is important that our customers are aware of those programs by using multiple communications channels, and that by communicating these offerings customers are empowered to use our services safely, save money and conserve resources.
In addition, we are required to educate the public in a number of areas, to include State of Colorado requirements around publ5ic education on water conservation. This a significant focus of our public education efforts, and you have likely seen communications featuring the “Water Wise Rules.” These communications help us educate and inform customers about watering rules and have proven to be impactful. We are also required by both our insurance provider and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to educate key publics around electrical and natural gas safety.
A few days later, we received a response from CSU Board President Wayne Williams. He responded:
I understand that a response has now been sent. Thanks for circling back.
To be clear, we’re on-board with the safety messages. “Call Before You Dig” is a good message and keeps people safe. The same with warning signs about carbon monoxide leaks and the importance of carbon monoxide detectors. People need the reminders, and there is certainly value in those messages.
But, the bulk of the advertising budget is spent on the “Today We Work” campaign. Over $615,000 —more than half of the budget— was spent on the campaign.
Here are some of the videos from the “Today We Work” campaign:
Do you think over $600,000 of ratepayer money —from a utility that everyone in Colorado Springs has to use— should be spent on advertising like this?
Contact Colorado Springs City Council (in their capacity as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board) and ask them to cut the CSU advertising spending in half. It is a monopoly, after all. Tell them to deliver the basics, and to stop spending ratepayer money on elaborate advertising campaigns that are nothing sandwiches.
Yolanda Avila Yolanda.Avila@coloradosprings.gov
Dave Donelson Dave.Donelson@coloradosprings.gov
Stephannie Fortune firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy Helms Randy.Helms@coloradosprings.gov
Nancy Henjum Nancy.Henjum@coloradosprings.gov
Bill Murray Bill.email@example.com
Mike O’Malley Mike.OMalley@coloradosprings.gov
Tom Strand Tom.firstname.lastname@example.org
Wayne Williams Wayne.email@example.com