Death and Taxes…And Death

Scott: Posted on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 1:44 PM

Today, I attended a networking meeting in Orange County, Calif. and found myself sitting in a room filled with senior execs from many different fields including corporate lawyers, CPAs, mortgage bankers, IT consultants and executive recruiters.  I was the only PR consultant there, which plays to my strength because I’ve never minded standing out in a crowd.  

At each one of these meetings, the group has a small-group topic to get conversation moving and today it was “what’s wrong with the tax code?”  An interesting topic at any time and certainly on the minds of everyone on the day income taxes are due.  Well, done!

When it came my turn to speak, I said that I think the part of the income tax system that is the most broken is its core — Americans’ perception about the very reason we pay taxes to our nation.  In short, I think the entire value proposition is out of whack with the citizens of this country.  I said, the question we should be asking is not how to fix the tax code and its many problems, but instead “why don’t Americans feel good or proud about paying taxes in what I and many believe to be the best country in the world? “

That’s the core. If the government/IRS cared about fixing it, they probably could, but basically the citizens of this country are like shareholders in a company that is fairly secretive about its finances and doesn’t feel it’s accountable to show any results, yet expects continuous re-investment.  Not good.  And that’s why you have this game, this little multi-billion-dollar contest to see which organization can get away with paying the least amount to the IRS each year.  If the perception of value was there, then we’d write those checks (both corporate and personal) much more easily.  And I’ll prove it.

If our government adopted a more shareholder friendly view, then they could use PR/communications to shape perceptions around the good works all of our taxes pay for.  For example, what if the IRS simply said “Thank you for your taxes this year! Your dollars helped Seal Team 6 find and kill Osama Bin Laden.  Um, where do I sign that check?  I would do it happily and then go home and act the whole thing out on Call of Duty 3 knowing that I was a small part of it.  Or possibly “thank you for your taxes.  Your dollars helped your nation’s space program explore outer space and make advances in space travel, etc,”  I’m in and you just know Richard Branson’s in—and he wasn’t even born here!

Here’s my point.  The government does a lot of good things, but they do an incredibly crappy job of merchandising the results and making anyone in this country feel like their tax dollars did anything of value.  It’s all perception.  I will happily pay my share of the dinner check if I know that my contribution is appreciated and that I got decent value for it.  How hard would it be to include us in the successes and report on the progress?  Like I said, you have to care first.

So we probably can’t fix the IRS, but herein lies the lesson.  Many people contribute to your company’s success on a daily basis.  Do you include them in the successes and bring them in close? Good public relations can do that for you.  And when things don’t go so well, good PR can be the difference between the survival of your company or brand and that other nasty thing that is as certain as paying taxes.