H&R Block Names VML Interactive AOR for Online Rebranding

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Seeking to boost its online efforts, tax preparation service H&R Block has dropped Icon Nicholson, New York, as its interactive agency of record and named Kansas City, MO, shop VML to the $5 million account for hrblock.com.

VML is charged not only with building awareness for Block's financial services and mortgage products online, but also with rebranding, upgrading and promoting the site at www.hrblock.com.

"VML emerged as a leading candidate primarily because, No. 1, we've had an existing relationship with them, and, two, they demonstrated through the agency review an extremely high level of enthusiasm to win the business," said Pat Crorkin, assistant vice president of e-commerce at H&R Block.

Block used VML for five years on projects such as developing and marketing the TaxCut software and a marketing promotion to convince students to file taxes through hrblock.com.

Icon Nicholson helped build and design the Block site during the last tax season, the first year the tax preparer dabbled in e-commerce.

"Icon Nicholson's a strong design shop," Crorkin said. "[But] … it was a travel, geographic issue. We conducted the search a couple of months ago only in Minneapolis, Denver [and] Dallas. We did a lot of travel to New York, and they did a lot of travel here. My staff found that we get more work done meeting face to face."

Like VML, the 45-year-old Block is based in Kansas City, MO. The company's 10,000-plus offices in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia last year served 18.9 million taxpayers. The company has ventured into financial planning and investment products as well as home mortgage offerings.

Block will not sever all ties with Icon Nicholson. The New York shop will continue to be involved in online media strategy for hrblock.com, Crorkin said. Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, handles the H&R Block offline account.

For hrblock.com, VML's brief includes e-commerce design, development and implementation. It also will create and place online consumer advertising campaigns, support affiliate and partner programs, and undertake e-mail marketing.

"If last year was version 1.0, we're engaged in 2.0 and beyond," said Scott McCormick, managing partner and chief creative officer at VML.

VML is an 8-year-old agency that last year posted billings of $90 million. Its clients include Northwest Airlines, Bayer Corp. and Coca-Cola Co.

The agency has started working for its new client and is rolling out usability surveys for the site to cover issues such as navigation and structural improvements.

Brian Yamada, account supervisor at VML, said the new hrblock.com and marketing for the site was meant to reflect Block's expansion beyond simple tax advice and filing.

"It's trying to extend the customer relationship throughout the year rather than just at tax time," Yamada said.

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