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What can save the IRS brand?

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Congress heard testimony today from some of the Tea Party groups subjected to extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status, and an inspector general released a new report, auditing IRS conferences.

It is fair to say the IRS brand has taken a hit over these last few weeks. Repairing that will be no small task. Part of the reason for that is the IRS hasn’t been a beloved brand for, well, for forever really.

“It stands for a whole lot of things that people don’t feel good about,” Paul Argenti says. He’s a professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Argenti has a long list of what the IRS stands for:

For bureaucracy, for stupid questions, for its ability to nickel and dime us on things that we would rather just not have to deal with.

To be fair, the IRS has had a lot to deal with. Its commissioners have argued for years now that the agency is underfunded and understaffed.

There is an argument to be made that the IRS hasn’t had the resources to do much about its brand, but, Argenti says, look on the bright side: “I mean, when you start as low as the IRS is, I don’t think, you know, that you can go much lower.”

Still, over these past few weeks, the agency has found itself adrift in the deepest depths of public contempt. “They’ve always had a warmth problem,” says Susan Fournier, a professor of marketing at the Boston University School of Management.  “But now they have a competence problem, too.”

And Fournier says that  is what the IRS has to fix. The Agency has to figure out what happened and  accept responsibility; then, it has to prove the public that it’s done that.

“If they do these things, you know, they probably can restore their level of trust that existed prior to the event,” says Chris Pullig, chair of Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. “And that should probably be their goal.”

No one loves the tax man, but if he’s doing his job fairly and professionally, we can tolerate him.

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