29 Dec 2010

Your money for their propaganda

A few weeks ago, aquadoc mentioned that the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) was co-publishing a magazine with the National Geographic called "Water for Tomorrow." The Doc asks if this is more puff piece than reporting.*

ACWA, btw, is the industry lobbying association based in Sacramento and headed by Tim Quinn, former chief economist (etc.) at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Yes, indeed, it is an advertorial:
  • Jennifer Persike, ACWA's Director of Strategic Coordination & Public Affairs, is in charge of the effort. (ACWA has more people working for communications than any other function.)
  • ACWA members pay the costs of production ($0.59/each for 1,000 copies delivered [pdf]), so they can give it away, free, to people who need to know they are doing a good job.
  • According to ACWA: "the 20-page, four-color magazine provides Californians with fresh and practical information on the state’s water system, ongoing water supply challenges and the need to use water as efficiently as possible... Produced under a cost-effective agreement with National Geographic Custom Publishing, Water for Tomorrow is available for ACWA member agencies to subscribe to and distribute to their customers at an extremely affordable cost."
  • How much is "affordable"? $5,900 per 1,000 copies,which they then send to people for free. Customers pay for the junkmail that water managers send them.
  • According to NG: "Even a prosperous place like California shouldn’t take its water supply for granted. National Geographic’s continuing mission is to inspire people to care about the planet, and we’re extremely proud to partner with ACWA in creating this timely publication.” "National Geographic Custom Publishing" has also rented its name and logo for others' corporate PR.
Bottom Line: ACWA members should stop wasting customers' money telling them about how wonderful they are. They should do their jobs (fixing leaks, ensuring quality, preventing shortages) instead. Teapartiers should attack this waste of money: ACWA's deadline for new subscriptions was 17 Dec. It's not too late to get your money back and keep these magazines out of landfills.

* His post links back to Lloyd Carter as source for a Ron Kaye post and Jeff Michael's early comment on this "magazine," which is "published exclusively for ACWA by: Onward Publishing, Inc. in partnership with National Geographic."


  1. I don't have much issue with ACWA here, they seem to be getting good value for their money. It would be less deceptive for them to put the ACWA logo on the cover though.

    It is National Geographic leasing out their logo and reputation that I find bothersome. As a non-profit, educational foundation it seems that educational materials bearing their stamp should be produced by them. Especially in this case, when their real magazine has run run influential stories on these topics.

  2. I was at the ACWA Communications Committee meeting when it was decided to pursue the NG partnership. I had some reservations about the idea because I anticipated the sort of criticism mentioned here, but as a consultant was not a voting member. If I were a voting member, I probably still would have voted to pursue the project anyway.

    The discussion in support of the NG partnership was all about the very important topic of altering Californians' wasteful water use habits and increasing their awareness of the frailties of the current water delivery system. The committee members thought (rightly, IMHO) that the use of the NG brand might lend credibility and believability to the message and help break through consumers' consciousness.

    We know that existing communications tools - district newsletters and websites, MWD and regional wholesaler advertising, etc. - aren't changing behaviors enough, so the committee decided to take an additional approach, even at the risk of the sort of criticism raised here.

  3. National Geographic is lending its name out a lot these days. They have deals with PADI and GlobalGiving as well. Are they hard up for funds? There must be a story here.

  4. @Laer -- yes, that's the problem. ACWA is not credible, but the solution to that is NOT to rent credibility. They need to SHOW RESULTS. One way to do this is to stop pushing the string of "consumer education" and get serious about reducing use (while preventing the utility death spiral), etc. This blog is PACKED with ideas of how to do that, but ACWA seems to think it more useful to pay another company for glossy nothingness...

    @Justin -- I read a history on NG a few years ago. They are VERY good at generating revenue and then spending it on more grandiose projects (office furniture, buildings, etc.)


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