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
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."
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
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
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
"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.