Taxman’s name doesn’t matter.

In an age when many companies have had more image overhauls and face-lifts than Zsa Zsa Gabor, it isn’t surprising to learn that the Inland Revenue is looking to re-brand itself. For the first time, it has taken on a marketing director and, if press reports are to be believed, even its name may be about to change.

The Inland Revenue is synonymous with tax collection, and it can still cause taxpayers to choke when the Revenue describes them as ‘customers’ – mainly because it offers a ‘service’ that, in an ideal world, they could happily live without.

The Revenue wants to move away from its status as a pure enforcer and emphasise its ‘enabling role’. This includes its welcome moves to provide more help lines, efforts to offer a higher quality of service to taxpayers and better communication methods, including the array of useful information found on its website.The Revenue wants to update its brand.

But changing the Revenue’s image will be an uphill task. It will take more than the tea-obsessed Mrs Doyle to make us savour the idea of filling in complicated tax return forms. It will need much more than good PR to explain away automatic and often draconian penalties for not meeting deadlines when the Revenue has been known on occasion to be less than speedy in dealing with issues raised by taxpayers. It will also be necessary to do more than improve on the Revenue’s name in order to make amends for those unintelligible tax statements, intrusive enquiries into tax return forms and the increased use of 30-day deadlines for having to produce detailed and lengthy items of information for the Revenue.

Ask the taxpayer who receives an aggressive letter chasing a tax payment that hints at unspecified legal action if they believe they are getting a good service. Ask the same question of the unrepresented individual who might recently have received a letter relating back to his 1997/98 tax return which could have left him wondering if he did something wrong all those years ago when in fact his tax return details may be in perfect order.

What is required is not just a brand makeover but continuing cultural change within the Revenue, so that it comes to treat taxpayers as people who are, on the whole, doing their level best to comply with an increasingly complicated tax system.

– Francesca Lagerberg is a senior consultant to the Tax Faculty of the ICAEW. The views expressed in this article are her own.


There has been a plethora of re-brandings in recent years. Brands including Corus, Innogy, and Accenture have all been born with limited short-term success. Reactions to them, as in the case of the BP re-branding, are often cynical. Yet not all are failures. In the case of Consignia, formerly the Post Office, there was a legitimate business case for re-branding, and reaction was generally positive.

On inspection, the Inland Revenue’s motives seem valid. Its role has changed and its image needs to adapt to reflect that. Audiences need to be educated about the new role and a distinction needs to be made between the old and new offerings. Yet if the Revenue is to re-brand, the organisation needs to enact fundamental change at the same time. Only then will the process be worthwhile.

A re-branding must be treated as an organisational change not purely an image change, i.e. real structural, cultural, and operational factors must be assessed and addressed. A new external image alone is meaningless.

The starting point must be an understanding of the current situation.

An audit of stakeholders’ perceptions, brand values, organisational issues and concerns must be undertaken along with an analysis of how a re-branding may affect them. The financial implications must also be analysed.

The Revenue’s key audiences are its consumers and its employees. Both may currently hold negative views of the organisation. The aim will be to transform those views in order to foster more positive relations.

Key to consumer perceptions will be improvements in customer relations, and service delivery. For employees’ working conditions, processes and values will be important. Potential benefits include improved morale and efficiency, reduced staff turnover, improved external relations, improved consumer perception, fewer late and incorrect returns etc. Whether this is achievable and realistic will depend on the management. If the re-branding acts as the catalyst for management to enact deep changes within the organisation this is feasible. If the change is limited to the re-branding, then it certainly is not.

Organisational and cultural change in the public sector have historically been difficult, and the Revenue will be an interesting case study. I just hope the new advertising campaign featuring Mrs Doyle is not an indication of what we can expect.

– David Haigh is a chartered accountant and chief executive of brand valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance.

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