July 21, 2017
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DWI-Checkpoint
The state has ordered counties to back off anti-DWI advertising
Julie Ann Grimm

Ad Blocker

Airwaves and billboards are teeming with the state’s ENDWI message. Why are county efforts getting aced out?

July 5, 2017, 12:00 am

The ad is, as the governor’s press release says, powerful. A man lies in his jail cell, unable to rest as he’s haunted by the memory of driving drunk and killing a young woman. “ENDWI” it says across the screen at the end.

“This new ad shows exactly what happens when people make the choice to get behind the wheel drunk,” the June 22 press release quotes Gov. Susana Martinez as saying.

Four days later, when police caught up with a six-time DWI offender who wasn’t reporting for his parole check-ins, another press release noted the arrest “comes on the heels of the Governor unveiling a new hard-hitting ad to end DWI.”

In the past three years, the New Mexico Department of Transportation has paid more than $4.7 million to RK Venture, the ad agency responsible for the ENDWI campaign. (State records aren’t detailed enough to determine how much of that total is direct spending on the campaign.)

That figure is not a telltale sign of overspending or government waste; by many accounts, the campaign is among the more successful efforts of the governor’s time in office. Rather, it’s a clear indication that there’s value to advertising, and the Martinez administration believes it.

Given ENDWI’s high profile—and the importance of an anti-DWI message during Martinez’ tenure—it was with some surprise at the end of last year that local anti-DWI programs in counties across the state learned they could no longer use millions in state grant funds to pay for promotional items or advertising. Times were tight, the DWI Grant Council informed some program managers in November. The six-member panel is appointed by the governor and doles out funding that comes from the excise tax on beer, wine and liquor sales. Effective with the council’s December 15 vote, all spending by counties on advertising was banned until further notice.

According to minutes from the meeting, the council’s chairman, former Clovis police chief Caleb Chandler, told the few people in the room that because of budget cuts, the council “needed to set priorities that have a direct impact on DWI offenders, such as probation and law enforcement.”

By May, counties were pushing back. Kelly Ford, the DWI program coordinator for Lea County, sits on the council and raised the issue. According to the minutes for the council’s May 2 meeting, Ford told her fellow councilors, “Much of our advertising is conditioning and being successful in changing behavior. If we don’t advertise our services, they will not be utilized. If they are not utilized, the staff members we employ will be sitting in the gallery. Counties cannot afford the costs of advertising.”

Martinez spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell emailed SFR on Wednesday evening in response to questions about the administration’s view on the value of advertising both state and local anti-DWI efforts.

“We always expect DWI funds to be spent responsibly on effective tools that help fight drunk driving in New Mexico. The administration will continue working with partners like law enforcement, local leaders, community groups and others to fight to get drunk drivers off our roads,” Cantrell wrote.

SFR asked Cantrell to clarify what that statement implied about advertising’s worth as a DWI prevention tool and will add to this story if she replies.

In Santa Fe County, which is relatively lucky, the DWI prevention program has shuffled its funding sources to keep advertising the services it offers.

“There’s a compliance fee that we charge offenders, so we’re going to use that to offset what we lost from the state,” Lupe Sanchez, Santa Fe County’s program coordinator, tells SFR. The county has shifted money from that fee to help cover a contract with local agency Firestik Studio. While it’s close to maintaining the level of advertising and promotion—which includes radio ads, bus wraps and drink coasters given to bars—the contract expires next March, three months before the end of the budget year. The county hopes the state lifts the ban by then.

Sanchez says advertising and promotion is more than just gimmickry and free t-shirts—it’s an evidence-based approach for dealing with substance abuse issues. That’s why the county’s program continues to spend on its “Survive the Summer” campaign instead of shutting down the effort until the DWI Grant Council gives it the OK to reboot.

The same logic applies to spending on ads to let people know about the county’s vehicle forfeiture program. It’s not a statewide program, so it wouldn’t make sense for it to be part of the ENDWI effort.

“There’s some programs around the state who aren’t spending,” Sanchez says. “It’s critical.” 

Money that comes from the state will be used to pay for officers to do saturation patrols or DWI checkpoints. Santa Fe’s program is considering a pilot project for pretrial monitoring of arrestees who had a high blood alcohol concentration.

In New Mexico’s most populous county, Bernalillo County spokesman Andy Lenderman tells SFR that advertising local anti-DWI efforts is considered a best practice for such programs.

“The advertising funds were used to promote safe, responsible driving. And the funds were used to promote an anti-drunken driving message,” Lenderman says. In years past, that’s meant advertising on city buses, billboards and on the radio.

According to Lenderman, Bernalillo County was one of the counties that got advance notice of the spending restrictions from the state. The county’s Local DWI grant funding had been slashed from $4.9 million in the budget year ending in June 2016 to $3.2 million in the budget year that just ended. When they got the news last November, county officials canceled five advertising contracts. Lenderman says the county has not used non-Local DWI funds to promote the program.

In the May 2 DWI Grant Council meeting, county after county told commissioners about the impact of advertising cuts. The Torrance County coordinator pointed out that advertising saturation patrols or DWI checkpoints increases the perception that drunken drivers will get caught. That fear can keep a drunken driver off the road.

Sierra County’s coordinator praised the state’s effort at advertising, but said even an ad in a small local newspaper needs to be a reality. In Roosevelt County, the program’s coordinator echoed the need for small-scale local advertising. Billboards and sign rentals can often be reused, she said, and called advertising “vital.”

 

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