Not since Scrooge's encounter with Marley's Ghost can there have
been a higher profile conversion from parsimony to generosity than that
of the Inland Revenue, which last week appointed M&C Saatchi to
cultivate its new caring and sharing personality.
Forget the old adage about there being no greater certainties than death
and the ever-grasping tax system. The taxman wants to be seen as
efficient and helpful when he takes your money and when he dishes out
His problem is the fine line he must tread. While it's OK for him to
shed his forbidding image, there must be no overt "selling" of the
service, lest he provoke charges of political motivation.
The Inland Revenue's reinvention is the result of two converging
One is the marketing-led culture being introduced by Ian Schoolar, the
former head of brand communications at NatWest, who became its marketing
head seven months ago.
The other is the Government's integration of the Inland Revenue with the
social security system as part of its plan to encourage people to work
rather than receive benefits. Now, public perceptions of the Inland
Revenue have to be changed as it extends its regulatory role to an
"enabling" one, Schoolar says.
The intention, he adds, isn't to "sell" the Inland Revenue but to ensure
all the organisation's communication is heading in the same
Similar initiatives by the tax authorities in Holland and Australia -
where taxpayers are invited to participate in "Building a better
Australia" - have convinced him that advertising can play a vital part
in the Inland Revenue's transformation.
The attempt to give the Inland Revenue a bit of humanity began with
Hector, the cartoon taxman created by Leagas Shafron Davis. Hector was
the acceptable face of the Inland Revenue and an acknowledgment that the
best would have to be made of the prevailing image of the taxman in most
minds. M&C Saatchi's task extends way beyond that. The agency must
articulate the Inland Revenue's new role in the lives of millions of
According to Moray MacLennan, the agency's joint chief executive, the
Inland Revenue brief fits perfectly with its talent for "taking complex
organisations with complex communication tasks and simplifying those
Schoolar has an uncomplicated view of the job in hand. "It's about
helping customers to pay what they owe and receive what they are due
without hassle," he says.
It's a big challenge. Not least because the Inland Revenue's
Scrooge-like associations will be hard to live down. "At the end of the
day, the Inland Revenue is still an enforcement agency and must retain
its credibility as such," Lucian Camp, the chairman of the financial
specialist agency Camp Chipperfield Hill Murray, says.
Advertising may be able to help the Inland Revenue but it's not a
Camp believes that the organisation's historical baggage will continue
to weigh heavily. "We still think of the Inland Revenue as staggeringly
inefficient and bureaucratic," he says. "M&C Saatchi will find it very
tough to persuade us that it's turning into something very different."