Leaders of the Orange County Power Authority are pouring $750,000 into a marketing plan over the next six months to promote the agency after failing a series of audits that led to two of their members withdrawing from the agency.
The new marketing plan comes after nearly one-quarter of the agency’s residential customers opted out when the agency launched for the cities of Fullerton, Irvine, Huntington Beach and Buena Park last year according to a report by the California state auditor’s office.
According to auditors, agency staff were expecting a residential opt out rate of around 5%, given that residents were automatically enrolled in the new competitor to Southern California Edison unless they filled out the paperwork to leave.
But the agency is also set to lose more customers after Huntington Beach announced they were leaving on Tuesday night, joining the County of Orange on the way out the door and taking their nearly 200,000 residents with them.
[Read: Huntington Beach Ditches Controversial Green Power Agency]
After their four failed audits, the agency’s board of directors have promised a wave of reform, unveiling an extensive revision plan that promises new transparency and firing CEO Brian Probolsky.
[Read: Orange County Power Authority Fires Controversial CEO After Two Years of Unrest]
Now, they’re hoping to win some of those lost customers back by investing more in their marketing efforts.
Originally, the agency was weighing an investment of nearly $3 million in advertising over the next two years, but backed out amidst questions on whether or not the contractor could deliver a strong communications plan.
The new plan sets a ceiling of $750,000 for the rest of the year, but it remains unclear how much of that will be spent.
The marketing contract is with Reveille Inc., who’ve been part of the agency’s public relations team since Apr. 2021.
Irvine Councilwoman and agency board member Kathleen Treseder said she felt the agency had failed to properly advertise to customers, and felt they should seek out a new vendor after multiple audits lambasted the agency’s failure to communicate with residents.
“I paid a lot of attention to the information coming out of OCPA and I did get frustrated with the lack of marketing,” Treseder said. “Reveille was part of the negative press of the agency, and I think the public would feel a bit more trust in the agency if we did consider fresh starts.”
The agency’s original contract with Reveille in 2021 was one of the contracts called out by state auditors, who said it was improperly approved by Probolsky in order to not have to report the spending to the board of directors.
When asked why Reveille was chosen, Probolsky was unable to answer according to state auditors.
[Read: State Auditor Lambasts OC’s Green Energy Agency Over Transparency and Contracting]
The Reveille contract only surfaced when Probolsky went to the board to ask for an expansion of the Reveille contract to a $590,000 two year contract in March 2022, which was approved.
[Read: OC Green Power Agency Expands Contracts Established Behind Closed Doors by CEO Last Year]
During the board’s discussion, agency staff admitted they failed to properly communicate with the public while the power authority was rolling out, and that they were unprepared for the negative backlash.
“The agency didn’t know,” said communications director Joe Mosca, who’s set to take over as interim CEO at the end of the month. “It followed conventional wisdom, which was to essentially under communicate.”
Despite that, Mosca still voiced overwhelming support for a new, expanded contract with Reveille.
“In the state audit, multiple criticisms are that we haven’t communicated enough,” Mosca said. “This plan is raising the bar of communication, letting folks know who we are and the benefits of being part of OCPA.”
Brenda Springer, Reveille’s CEO, also spoke at the meeting, and said that all the communications they sent out were approved by the prior board and outgoing CEO Probolsky.
“Ultimately, it is up to our clients to decide on the strategy and the direction they want to go, and we respond to that,” Springer said. “I certainly understand your concern but I want to make the appeal that the best is yet to come.”
Treseder had a quick follow-up.
“You had strategies and things you wanted to do, but you weren’t allowed to do it because of the staff and former board?”
Her question didn’t get answered.
Board members ultimately voted to give Reveille a six month contract, with a review this December, and review an application from another firm called Wicked Bionic to compare both firms.
Fullerton Mayor and Chair of the board Fred Jung also said the agency had failed to properly communicate, and said the burden of that rests on his shoulders as the only remaining original board member but that they needed immediate action.
“I don’t know that any one of us on that board initially anticipated even remotely the kind of negativity that would be associated with the launch of this agency,” Jung said. “We need a leaping start at this point, we have crises we need to address.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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