CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/INLAND REVENUE - Giving the Inland Revenue a friendly face is a difficult assignment

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

your benefits.

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."