Sunday, March 19, 2006

Block memo shows it has good PR sense after all

As a follow up to the recent post about the woes of H&R Block, it's interesting to note that maybe they do know how to handle public relations after all.

In a recent post, I noted that the company's public perception was taking some hits for not paying its full share of taxes, all the while failing to make legitimate hay from the fact that it was doing great work behind the scenes on behalf of Katrina survivors in the Gulf Coast.

Well, recently, a secret internal memo showed that in the realm of crisis management, at least, perhaps it knows a thing or two about P.R.

The March 15 memo, from Tax Services Division head Timothy Gokey, outlines some talking points for company officials after the company faced a lawsuit from the Attorney General of New York over the company's "Express IRA."

The memo notes that the IRA has been "broadly hailed by consumer advocates as a way to help moderate income people to save." It attacks AG Eliot Spitzer, noting that he is running for governor of New York, and outlined the allegations and stated why they are false.

The internal email listed, in bullet-point fashion, some "key truths" about the Express IRA product, and ended, bitingly, with, "While the Attorney General will get his press coverage, we are confident that we will prevail when the facts can be impartially presented, in Court."

So far, so good. But, you may ask, how do I know about this so-called secret, internal email? Why, it was on the Drudge Report, that's how.

The fact that Internet news-hound Matt Drudge posted this on the same day it was released tells me that the Block people shrewdly released it to them for public consumption. The site gets MILLIONS of hits per day, and this article (titled: "Block Internal Email Defends Against Charges") was featured prominently on the page.

The only argument against the intentional release of the memo are the political attacks on Spitzer, who isn't mentioned by name. The company's official news release is a bit less incendiary, although just as combative.

Are things turning around for the company? Well, on the same day the internal email was released, the company was given approval to open their own bank, but they have also been sued by the AG's Office of California over their Instant Tax Refund program, which its claims was a disguised "high cost loan." Mixed bag.

But if they can learn to handle problems effectively (and, perhaps learn to tout their achievements better) they will be fine.

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