Transparency in State Agency Advertising Spending

Forty-four NYS agencies and authorities contracted with advertising agencies to get messages to New Yorkers about essential services and programs from 2012 to 2022.15

New York State’s budget, at $220 billion in fiscal year 2022-23, is, not surprisingly, more than double the budget of New York City, and the state employs more than 1.4 million workers. The agencies are entrusted with disseminating essential messages to all communities, including communities of color and immigrant communities, about when and where to vote early, get flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines, substance abuse assistance, and how to apply for emergency rental assistance.

Advertising agencies, like McCann-Erickson USA Inc (now known as McCann), OpAD Media Solutions, and Miller Advertising Agency, on behalf of New York State agencies, placed ads conveying these vital messages to residents on radio and TV stations, in newspapers, and in magazines, as well as Facebook (Meta), Google, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. Sometimes they advertise in community media outlets.

How can we tell if community outlets are getting their fair share of agency spending on advertising meant to reach all New Yorkers?

The Open Budget NY data transparency tool allows a search for marketing and advertising program appropriations for only one single state agency or authority, the Department of Economic Development, which has merged into Empire State Development (ESD).16 Open Budget NY’s archive of data provides historical advertising appropriations data, but only for ESD. This database did not list the state’s total advertising budget or the detailed advertising budget for any other state agencies or authorities.

The public database Open Book NY, described on the website by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli as providing “transparency so citizens are empowered with the information they need to hold their elected officials accountable,” offers some level of transparency on the state budget, contracts, and spending. However, this database was not transparent enough to help us find the total advertising spending of New York State agencies for the period we initially focused on, FYs 2012 to 2022. When searching all payment types on the dropdown menu associated with advertising, the results were not comprehensive, which was evident compared to the subsequent search we conducted. The closest we could get to finding the state’s overall advertising spending for that period using publicly available data was the total amount of the expenditure by state agencies or authorities to all vendors with state advertising contracts listed as contract type “Advertising/Public Awareness,” which is inexplicably a subcategory of the “Printing” category.

New York State agencies paid over $905 million to state-contracted advertising agencies from FYs 2012 to 2022

Open Book NYS Contract Search portal provided a list of all “Advertising/Public Awareness” contracts for FY 2012 to 2022. We then searched within Payments for all state-contracted advertising agencies for the same period. The results showed that state agencies paid over $905 million to state-contracted advertising agencies from FYs 2012 to 2022. As Table 1 on the following page shows, the Gaming Commission ($422 million) and the Department of Health ($284 million) spent the most out of the agencies that ranked highest in spending with the top state-contracted advertising agencies.



15 Spending by Agency with Top Contract Payees (Adv firms) FY 12-22 via Open Book NY.
16 OpenNY Appropriations, Programs pulldown menu, choose “Marketing and Advertising Programs”