KANSAS CITY, MO: H&R Block banked on Internet rumors that its name was the final answer of Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings's record-breaking run, offering him free lifetime tax and financial advisory services in a gamble that paid off in considerable publicity this week.
Jennings, whose streak on Jeopardy ended on November 30th after 75 straight wins, was thwarted by the Final Jeopardy question: "Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year."
Jennings erroneously answered FedEx, while the victor answered with H&R Block. Fortuity led the company to offer services to the Jeopardy champion who'd become a national media phenomenon.
Jonathan Mason, account executive at H&R Block's AOR Weber Shandwick, said the company took an early interest in Jennings that predated the Internet rumors about what question would befall him.
"Since he was winning lots of money, he fits into their whole life-changing theme, how it affects their personal financial situation," Mason said, referring to people who encounter a windfall of money in situations of inheritance or raises.
H&R Block, a firm mostly known for its tax-preparation services, also provides financial advisory services.
"Everyone thinks tax-preparation first, but we're trying to increase the visibility of the financial advisory service," Mason said.
When the Internet rumors swirled - after the show was taped before it aired -- H&R Block approached Jeopardy, which would not comment on whether the company's name was indeed the Final Jeopardy question.
In a leap of faith, Mason said the company made the offer of lifetime services to Jennings through Jeopardy, without knowing if he would accept or even if the answer would be the company's name.
"So many rumors reached a critical mass that it would have been a shock had it not been the way it was reported," Mason said.
But the company was committed to press on, nowing the only way they would have lost out was if Jennings declined the offer and the Internet rumors were false. Mason said that the company would have issued a release if the company's name was the final answer even if Jennings declined the lifetime services.
"The skeleton of the release was written a couple of different ways," Mason said. "Until you get to the quote by [H&R Block SVP] David Byers it's a little gray as to whether he accepted this offer."
The WS team began yesterday making a lot of calls after putting the press release across the wire.
"But then it switched from pro-active to taking a lot of calls, and that's continued today," Mason said.
The AP filed a Kansas City-based story, which was picked up by the likes of the Miami Herald, and it was mentioned on Slate.com, San Francisco Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, and others.
Jennings is also scheduled to appear on television shows such as Extra and Anderson Cooper 360, and the company hopes to sit down with him soon.
WS had a team of three people working on the project. Account supervisor David Fransen runs the H&R account, which features anywhere from two to six people working on the account at anytime.
"[Pursuing this] required a leap of faith taken, but I would have taken two variables against us to derail it," Mason said, adding that the best possible scenario actually came true.
He added: "I don't know how often that happens."