Client: H&R Block, Kansas City, MO
PR Team: Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, MN
Campaign: You Won the Money - Really!"
Time Frame: June 15 to July 10, 2001
Budget: Less than $15,000
What would you think if you found out you'd just won gobs of cash?
Believe it or not, elation might give way to skepticism. And whether or
not the blame lies with Ed McMahon (an easy target, after all),
sweepstakes winners often need some convincing that they have indeed
This past tax season, H&R Block decided to offer a cool $1
million to a randomly selected taxpayer who used the company's
preparation services to file their returns. However, the winner didn't
claim the prize, believing it was all a promotional hoax. With some
trial and error followed by a step back and a deep breath, H&R Block
managed to turn the problem on its head, capitalizing on the coaxing
that the elusive winner would need to come forward.
The fulfillment company hired by H&R Block made repeated attempts to
contact the winners (Glen and Gloria Simms of Sewell, NJ) and have them
sign an affidavit, but "they didn't believe them," says Janine Smiley,
manager of PR for H&R Block. "We used certified mail and overnight
packages, and they still didn't believe they were the winners. They
actually threw it all away. We finally sat back and asked ourselves,
'What can we do?' We came up with the strategy of going to the media to
plead our cause, and say, 'Please help our winners take the next
They also saw an opportunity to fold in promotion of H&R Block's newer
financial planning and home mortgage services with the public plea, and
called-in agency Campbell Mithun (CM) for help (Fleishman-Hillard works
on H&R Block's consumer PR; CM works with the marketing
"We thought it made for an unusual and interesting story," says CM
account supervisor Emily Schroeder Orvik.
After the Simms had ignored the fulfillment company for some time, H&R
Block and CM turned up the heat. Smiley recalls that while making
personal calls and sending her business card loosened up the Simms a
little, she still couldn't get them to sign and return the affidavit.
"The media was really what we considered our big opportunity to put this
in context for the Simms, who didn't really believe that this was all
going on," says Orvik.
Orvik and Smiley generated hundreds of news stories, including coverage
on MSNBC, CNN, and the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. They also
secured an interview with Joe Sevcik, H&R Block's VP of marketing, with
Katie Couric on NBC's Today show. This presented the opportunity to
promote H&R Block's new services along with the plea for the Simms to
Unfortunately, the latter proved difficult because the winners couldn't
be mentioned by name on the air (never mind the fact that Gloria Simms
doesn't even watch the Today show.) However, the more coverage the story
received (six AP stories, 189 broadcast hits, and several unscripted
on-air talk show mentions), the more the Simms began to realize that H&R
Block wasn't joking, says Orvik.
Finally convinced that they had indeed won $1 million, the Simms
signed the affidavit. Their accepting of the prize was covered by Today
(and several other outlets), at which point Gloria apologized to Couric
for not watching the show. "Gloria said, 'Hey, I don't even have time to
read the newspaper in the morning,'" recalls Orvik.
H&R Block received over 10 million print media impressions as a result
of the Simms' refusal to claim their prize. "We had a happy ending, and
we were able to talk about the new and expanded services that Block
offers," says Orvik. "The contest was to be an expression of that
expanded portfolio of services, and this played up very advantageously."
Smiley claims that H&R Block's call center received an influx of
inquiries about the company's services.
CM is currently working on H&R Block's ad campaign for the forthcoming