Smaller companies often vie for media attention, but larger companies tend to pick and choose which media interviews they’ll take. This is a fairly significant shift in an organizational communications strategy.
By my observation, such was the case when Marketplace ran this piece – The powerful interests fighting tax simplification by Ryan Kailath. The story examines why legislation to “offer taxpayers pre-filled out returns” has stalled.
Here’s his story angle:
“Make paying taxes easier, and more people will pay their taxes. So why hasn’t it happened yet?”
The concept of simplifying the tax code is one of those issues that tends to draw bipartisan support. This is because the system, as it exists now, often requires taxpayers to pay an expert…in order to pay the government.
Those experts involved in tax preparation have an interest in keeping the tax code complex, according to this piece. This is because if tax preparation were easier, customers wouldn’t need their products or services:
“In 2016, H&R Block spent $3.26 million on lobbying expenses, including against Warren’s bill [to offer pre-filled out returns]. And Intuit, which makes the popular TurboTax software, spent $2.39 million.”
Understanding that context, as the PR teams at these companies almost certainly do, would you accept such an interview request and take a stand, or would you pass on the story?
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Passing is the extent of the participation from H&R Block and Intuit on this particular story:
“Neither company responded to interview requests for this story.”
I thought the story would end there but it didn’t:
“Mark Steber, chief tax officer for tax service Jackson Hewitt, which spent nothing on lobbying last year and very little in years previous, said that pre-filled tax returns would profoundly change his business. He opposes the idea on principle.”
His take on the matter? You don’t let the proverbial fox guard the henhouse.
“The IRS, Steber contended, is in the business of raising tax revenue. Whereas Jackson Hewitt and other tax-prep services are in the business of saving taxpayers money. Plus, Steber argued, the IRS can be intimidating.”
It certainly makes it easier to focus your answers — on principle — if you don’t have to also answer questions about investments in lobbying. However, even conceding that point, I admire the way Mr. Steber and Jackson Hewitt tackled the issue head-on.
While I don’t mean to second-guess the decision-making process at the other two companies, I believe this goes to show you can answer tough media questions and still make a good impression.
Besides, if you don’t have an answer, chances are someone else will and who knows when you’ll have another opportunity to tell your side of the story.
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