Your Free Online Tax Return is Only a Click Away
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Your Free Online Tax Return is Only a Click Away

The industry viewed H.D. Vest as a small local financial-services firm, rather than as a major player in the realm of comprehensive financial services and advanced technologies. The company’s media exposure was limited and its stock price was relatively s

Paul Holmes


Since its inception in 1983, Texas-based H.D. Vest has focused on building the company’s identity and expanding its reach.  This has included recruiting a network of over 7,000 tax professionals, broadening its product offerings beyond tax preparation and building a technological infrastructure to support both its core business and emerging e-business. Prior to retaining the strategic counsel of Ogilvy PR, H.D. Vest’s brand definition was based on a narrow, founder-driven business model. The industry viewed H.D. Vest as a small local financial-services firm, rather than as a major player in the realm of comprehensive financial services and advanced technologies. The company’s media exposure was limited and its stock price was relatively static.  Ogilvy PR’s campaign brought H.D. Vest to a level of recognition it never enjoyed before.  Through the media, H.D. Vest was introduced as an expert in its field to consumers, investors and industry competitors alike.  Although it boasts a rich history and a comprehensive services offering, H.D. Vest’s key publics only recently have begun to identify with a smart, modern image that has catapulted the company ahead of the competition.  In addition to driving thousands of consumers to and garnering major media placements, Ogilvy PR created, developed, cultivated and marketed H.D. Vest, which has resulted in the ongoing financial success that the company has achieved over the last year.




H.D. Vest was the only company offering tax preparation and e-filing absolutely free, with no strings attached.

H.D. Vest’s representative network made the offer even more appealing because there was the opportunity for    consumers to receive additional financial-planning advice and to meet local advisors.

H.D. Vest had flawless technology aboard the Vest Van that could support the service it was offering.




Compared to its competitors (e.g., H & R Block), H.D. Vest was virtually unheard of to the general consumer.  Nobody knew how many consumers would visit or the Vest Van.

Consumer apprehension of filing a tax return on the Internet.

The Vest Van tour schedule had to be flexible enough to handle uncontrollable factors (e.g., inclement weather, event cancellations) and unexpected breaking news in local cities that prevented secured media from coming to report about the van




Ogilvy PR’s mission was to raise widespread awareness of H.D. Vest to all consumers. By the company offering the free online tax program during tax season 2000, Ogilvy PR would build a campaign that would drive traffic to, promote consumer usage of H.D. Vest’s financial services offering, and enhance Vest’s corporate reputation while providing qualified leads for the company’s representative network. 




No other tax and financial-planning company had ever undertaken a national and grass-roots campaign such as the one Ogilvy PR had proposed.  Ogilvy PR also conducted research on H.D. Vest’s competitors and determined that no other company had an infrastructure that included such a large network of tax professionals.  By ardently targeting national and local media with these angles, Ogilvy PR attempted to put the company in the best possible situation to reach potential consumers directly.




Create a user-friendly web site PR program that attracts consumers to the company’s web site

Schedule Vest Van visits in target cities in which there were accessible media outlets and high traffic

Work with Vest representatives in local Vest Van markets to get them involved in the campaign

Arrange one-on-one meetings between H.D. Vest executives and investors




Ogilvy PR attempted to strategically place H.D. Vest in major national media to promote the new offering before any of the company’s competitors released their programs.  Ogilvy PR pursued The New York Times, which resulted in an exclusive interview with reporter David Cay Johnston and H.D. Vest CEO and founder, Herb Vest.


Ogilvy PR also created the “Vest Van” that traveled to and targeted various cites throughout the U.S.  Ogilvy PR:

Designed the “Vest Van,” a 40-foot customized RV that contained computers allowing consumers to prepare and e-file their taxes right on the spot.

Identified appropriate sites and events throughout the country at which the van would receive attention from the media and potential customers.

Worked with H.D. Vest representatives in target cities to add a local angle to the story.




Press Conference

On February 3, Ogilvy PR coordinated a joint press conference with H.D. Vest and the Internal Revenue Service at Washington D.C.’s National Press Building, during which the IRS praised H.D. Vest for its tax offering. Ogilvy PR cultivated the relationship that existed between H.D. Vest and the IRS, and was able to secure the IRS’s participation in the conference. In attendance were assistant IRS commissioner Robert Barr and TX representative Pete Sessions (R-TX).  In conjunction with the press conference, Ogilvy PR released an ANR and b-roll package that were sent to radio outlets and TV stations, respectively.


Vest Van

Ogilvy PR used the Vest Van to position H.D. Vest as the preeminent tax preparation and financial-planning solution; to demonstrate the benefits of having local tax professionals serve as a financial advisors; and to foster third-party partnering advocates (e.g., the IRS) who would speak in support of its exclusive offering.


Ogilvy PR’s strategy was to saturate the local media and to reach consumers in a variety of different venues: local businesses, homes and passers-by. The van was to be used as a backdrop for both public and media events; serve as a site for consumers without computers to enter their tax information; and double as conference/office space for event participants and media interviews.  


Ogilvy PR also positioned the Vest Van outside of the National Press Club on the day of the conference with the goal of supplying a visual that would further entice the media. In addition to receiving coverage from the media outlets that attended, Ogilvy PR worked with Medialink to create a b-roll package that was made available on satellite that day. A photo of the officials on the Vest Van hit the newswires by noon, resulting in coverage of the event throughout the country.


The Vest Van debuted on January 25 in Boston.  In that city and every one thereafter, Ogilvy PR performed the following activities:


PRESS KIT DISTRIBUTION: Ogilvy PR mailed press kits four weeks in advance of visit to city editors, calendar editors and tax/personal finance/business editors as well as TV and radio stations.


LOCAL MARKET MEDIA TOUR: Ogilvy PR pitched local-market media to secure articles about the Vest Van before it arrived and secured media appointments for the appropriate H.D. Vest spokespeople. Ogilvy PR also conducted outreach to local weatherpeople and morning shows for remotes and appearances.


MEDIA ALERT: Ogilvy PR faxed media alerts three days prior to the visit and again on the morning of the RV stop. They were sent to city desks, local daybooks, photo desks and TV and radio stations. Follow-up calls were made shortly thereafter.




Ogilvy PR has defined and established H.D. Vest as a true contender in the tax and financial-planning industry among the media, investment community and potential customers, achieving more than 600 million media impressions for the company and the free tax program offering.

Additionally, aggressive media outreach about the program resulted in placements on national television (CNNfn, Bloomberg Small Business, CBS Early Show); business magazines (Forbes, Business Week); technology and financial columnists/reporters at top-100 circulation newspapers (USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Examiner, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Boston Globe); national radio (Bloomberg Radio Network, USA Radio Network, NPR); and accounting/financial planning trade publications (Accounting Technology, Accounting Today, Practical Accountant, Financial Planning Magazine).


In its first season, H.D. Vest successfully e-filed more than 270,000 tax returns with its technology – ranking behind only Intuit.  It became the first company ever to e-file that many tax returns in its first season of offering e-filing.


Though the stock had leveled at six dollars per share, H.D. Vest stock price reached a record-high of 10 1/8, the highest it has ever been.


H.D. Vest reinforced relationships with its representative network and attracted new talent to its network.

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