Robert DeNiro; File Photo courtesy: USA Today
By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- Four months after first airing television commercials featuring the voice of Robert De Niro, the state's economic development arm revealed on Thursday what the Manhattan-born actor was paid: Nothing.
De Niro's pro bono narration was featured in a series of six advertisements promoting the state's business climate that aired in New York and nationwide. Each ad ended with the Academy Award winner reciting the slogan of the marketing campaign -- "The New New York Works For Business."
It still wasn't clear Thursday what, if anything, Spike Lee was paid to direct one of the advertisements, which aired for eight weeks through mid-August. Lee, whose production company is based in Brooklyn, directed a 60-second commercial for the state's campaign. Empire State Development officials couldn't say Thursday whether he was paid.
Empire State Development, the economic-development arm of the state, five times delayed a response to a Freedom of Information request first made by Gannett's Albany Bureau on July 9. Some of the information was provided Wednesday.
The request sought any payment records from the corporation to De Niro, Lee, rapper Jay Z and singer Alicia Keys. The song "Empire State of Mind," performed by Keys and Jay-Z, was the soundtrack to one of the advertisements. The response included licensing payments for the song's use totaling $142,500, but no payment records for De Niro or Lee.
The corporation on Thursday acknowledged that De Niro's work was uncompensated. A call to 40 Acres and a Mule, Lee's company, was not returned Thursday.
De Niro recorded the tracks for the commercials on June 15 in a Manhattan studio, about a week before they began airing. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in attendance, according to his public schedule.
The six advertisements were produced as part of a $50 million marketing contract that went to New York City-based advertising giant BBDO. They featured success stories of New York-based businesses and manufacturing plants that were aided by state benefits, including BAE Systems in Johnson City, Broome County.
In all, $12 million went toward purchasing airtime for the television spots.
Mike Durant, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the messaging in the advertising campaign was effective. But he warned that the state has to take further action in order to truly improve its long-maligned business climate.
"At the end of the day, the ad campaign was well done and it's nice, but we still have the highest costs of doing business, high taxes and a Thruway toll hike that's coming," he said. "All the things that make it hard to do business in New York are still there."