CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs - Tech world fights dot-com tax law

Client: Reform AMT (Foster City, CA)

PR Team: ExcitePR (NYC)

Campaign: "Not-Spoiled Dot-Commers"

Time Frame: April 2001-June 2001

Budget: Pro bono ($30,000 worth of work)



Though the collapse of the internet economy isn't the only reason for

the current fiscal downturn, millions of layoff-fearing Americans

certainly see it that way. It's those wunderkind aficionados of Palm

Pilots and venture capital who got us into this mess, the conventional

wisdom says, selling gullible corporate executives on a "new economy"

that has since evaporated.



Now, imagine having to sell that same public on giving these folks a tax

break.



Strategy



When Jeff Chou was laid off from his job as an engineer at Cisco

Systems, he, like countless others, fell victim to the Alternative

Minimum Tax on incentive stock options, or AMT. Lucky for Chou, his

brother-in-law is ExcitePR's VP Ed Tsai, who, hoping to educate the

public that the tech demographic is filled with hardworking middle-class

people and not Bill Gates wannabes, convinced Miranda Tan, ExcitePR

president, to work for the nascent "Reform AMT."



Incentive stock options, once solely the province of the rich, became

more commonplace as internet companies sought to give employees a stake

in their companies in exchange for smaller salaries. Dubbing techies the

"middle-class victims of the alternative minimum tax," ExcitePR sought

to convey to the public that middle-class tech workers are being forced

to sell their stocks to pay the AMT, and in some cases, having already

been laid off, are being driven deep into debt.



"There's a kind of resentment toward the dot-com industry that's built

up over the years," says Tsai. "Lots of people think they're just plain

greedy, but these are people who made only 40 to 50 grand a year."



Tactics



With the initial organization of the Foster City, CA-based Reform AMT

group in April, the campaign revolved around two events: the May

roll-out of the group's website, reformamt.org, and a rally at San Jose

city hall on June 18. Tsai says that the website was aimed at informing

the public about the group's mission while providing a resource for the

media. The site lists "poster children" (examples of dot-commers laid

low by the tax who don't fit the stereotype of the spoiled-rich

dot-commer), as well as information on proposed legislation that would

fix the problem.



In mid-May, ExcitePR began pitching reporters covering tax, finance,

technology, and workplace issues, publicizing the new website by

providing personal stories of workers who suffered because of the AMT,

and advice on how people could avoid its effects. A release was sent out

via Business Wire, and more than 100 reporters were targeted, says Tsai,

with some ExcitePR staffers following up with key reporters via phone

and e-mail.



Results



The June town hall meeting in San Jose attracted 300 people, including

Representatives Robert Matsui and Zoe Lofgren. ExcitePR pitched 50

outlets, mostly in California, and Tsai sent videotapes of the meeting

to reporters not in attendance "so they would see the emotion of the

people."



During the campaign, Reform AMT's membership grew from five to 550

members, says Tan. She claims extensive television coverage of the town

hall meeting and widespread print coverage in California newspapers,

including The Sacramento Bee and the San Jose Mercury News. Nationally,

the AP, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Businessweek,

Investors Business Daily, Newsday, Informationweek, the now-de-funct

Industry Standard, CBS Marketwatch, and CNN provided coverage.



On August 2, a bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives to

alter the AMT with respect to incentive stock options exercised during

2000.



Future



"The organization has become much more sophisticated, growing by leaps

and bounds, with local groups lobbying their own representatives and

senators," says Tan of the current reform movement. Jeff Chou plans to

continue working with Tsai and ExcitePR.



"Reform AMT owes its current success to the media coverage we have been

getting due largely as a result of ExcitePR's efforts," he says.



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