Treasury taps WS for direct-deposit push

MINNEAPOLIS: Following a successful six-month pilot program, the US Department of the Treasury has officially selected Weber Shandwick to lead a potentially $24 million integrated effort promoting direct deposit for recipients of Social Security and other

MINNEAPOLIS: Following a successful six-month pilot program, the US Department of the Treasury has officially selected Weber Shandwick to lead a potentially $24 million integrated effort promoting direct deposit for recipients of Social Security and other

The "Go Direct" effort will kick off in late September with the goal of converting to direct deposit the 20% of federal payees who still prefer to receive physical checks. The department sends out 160 million benefit checks a year, each of which costs 75 cents more to process than electronic deposit. The program could save taxpayers as much as $120 million a year.

The Treasury's contract with WS will be worth $8 million in the first year, with the potential for two additional years, said Alvina McHale, legislative and public affairs director for the Treasury's Financial Management Service.

WS worked on the $5 million pilot program, which ended in March. It involved testing the campaign in Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, and Puerto Rico. The account will be directed by WS' Minneapolis office and will combine grassroots outreach with media relations, web relations, advertising, and direct mail. WS expects to work with three sister agencies within Interpublic - Sawyer Miller Advertising, KRC Research, and multicultural PR shop Axis Agency.

"Our expertise with integrated campaigns will ensure that we will build a unique and persuasive communications program that resonates with the target market - a segment of the population that is often unresponsive to traditional media techniques," explained Sara Gavin, president of WS' Minneapolis office.

The Treasury intends to provide toll-free telephone numbers that people can call in either English or Spanish to switch over to direct deposit.

A Go Direct website also will be created that will be available in both English and Spanish.

The department worked with banks and credit unions, community centers, senior centers, and charities during the pilot program as part of cobranding initiatives that are expected to carry over and cut the costs of the national initiative.

"We really want others to help us to sell it," McHale said. "We don't want to be the only ones talking about Go Direct. We hope, as happened in the pilot, that the partners will take it and make it their own."

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