Every year around April 15, US citizens are visited by that long-forgotten feeling of dread that comes when there's homework to be done - tax season has arrived.
As if the flurry of receipts and W-2s aren't enough, taxpayers must also deal with the masses of people that seem to clog all necessary resources.
Staples, the world's largest office products company, recognized this as a time when its customers needed it most. It decided to seize the opportunity to promote its nationwide in-store copy and print centers by offering free copies of tax-related materials. However, the company knew that it was going to need something a little extra to counteract the dull anxiety of the tax deadline.
"We tried to think of something that was creative to build on the promotion because free copies are not very newsworthy," says Sharyn Frankel, PR specialist for Staples.
Seeking an added edge, Staples called on its standing PR agency, Tilson Communications, for ideas on raising awareness of the centers. The firm initially came up with a public service message reminding people of the importance of keeping hard copies of personal documents. It secured the support of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which supplied Staples with quotes and b-roll video.
Additionally, the firm sought to tap into the actual day of the tax deadline, which is always a media frenzy. If Staples could create enough buzz with its free copies, then it could piggyback on the existing attention of reporters and news programs.
The PR firm knew exactly what to do, and calls were placed to the US Postal Service. When the USPS sent out its national tax deadline press release, it stated that four markets - Boston, Chicago, New York, and LA - would feature free Staples copier stations right in or in front of the actual post offices.
"We picked cities with strong media markets that had offices open until midnight," says Mary Hightower, VP of Tilson. "It was really simple, but it made sense."
Tilson drew up 350 customized press releases for each Staples market, alerting customers to the free copying services being offered, and pitched the services to local media outlets. It also sent out a national press release. On the day of the actual deadline, Staples copier stations were set up at each post office, along with pens, envelopes, filing extension forms, and whatever else a harried taxpayer might need.
In New York and Los Angeles, tents were set up outside to house the stations, and the USPS posted signs directing the hordes of grateful customers to the services offered outside.
"We were hearing comments from people who were just so grateful that we were offering
up service, [and they] would come up to us and say, 'We don't know what we would have done if you weren't here,'" says Hightower.
Executives at the New York station reported around 250 visitors, and Los Angeles received around 225, with more than 200 visitors estimated at each station in Boston and Chicago.
Tilson's use of the media resulted in more than 100 placements (including on CNN and in The Wall Street Journal), as well as 10 million impressions.
"The media were already filing last-minute tax stories, and this kind of gave them a little spin to make it a bit different," says Tracy Tilson, president of the agency.
Staples has already made inroads toward possibly doing the same event next year, and Tilson Communications is evaluating feedback from people involved to see how they could make the event better for customers.
"We are definitely considering it for next year," Frankel says. "It was fun for us, and it was a great service to our current and potential customers."
PR team: Staples (Framingham, MA) and Tilson Communications (Boca Raton, FL)
Campaign: Tax Day 2005
Time frame: February to April 15, 2005