Interview: Scott Gulbransen, Senior Manager of Public Relations & Social Media, Consumer Group, Intuit


Doing taxes is no fun. Scott Gulbransen knows that, and he tries make things a little bit easier in his role as Senior Manager of Public Relations & Social Media, Consumer Group, Intuit. The company is home to such brands as TurboTax, Quicken and now

We spoke to Gulbransen about the PR challenges of incorporating the recently acquired brand while phasing out Quicken, how he built the brand’s Twitter presence by engaging, and what his team does to go into “high gear” each tax season.

Intuit is phasing out Quicken with the acquisition of, where in the communications process, does that stand?

We’re happy to say that the deal to acquire closed on November 2nd, so it’s finally official and we can welcome all the Mint folks into the family.

Everyone’s excited about that. We think that the innovation and progress that Mint has made in the space is really going to help us not only online, where they’re doing well, but with our Quicken desktop product on both the Windows and Mac sides. It will be real interesting to see how that all plays out.

From a communications standpoint, obviously, there’s a lot of great attention that Mint has got over time, and the Quicken brand is 25 years old and synonymous with personal finance. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to go out and talk about how people can really do simple things to get on top of their money in a meaningful way.

Has it been discussed if Mint PR will fall under your team?

It will. The personal finance area will report in to the consumer group. Any what we would consider consumer products, outside of small business, which is the Quickbooks group, are under that consumer group umbrella. How it will break out from a communications perspective, is something that we’re still working on, but we should know pretty soon how that is all going to work out.

When you have these two pretty well known brands coming together, what are some of the biggest challenges, from a PR standpoint?

One is that tax season in itself is a unique animal, remember the tax unit produces somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion in revenue and that’s really in a 90-day period. So, you have a very seasonal business, and the opportunity to communicate the benefits of your products, those things are high energy, high stakes, and they are high risk if you don’t perform, so we have to really get ready to ramp up and go fast through the sprint that is tax season. From a communications perspective, what that means is we have to make some big bets, and we have to feel really good about those going in, because there’s not a lot of time to switch, or to change things around.

You launched the “Freeloader Nation” campaign last year for TurboTax. Tell us about that and why it was a success.

The Freeloader Nation campaign was part of a larger strategic marketing campaign and one thing Intuit does really well and we feel really strongly about is that fact that communications or social media doesn’t operate in a vacuum, they need to be part of an overreaching, holistic marketing strategy across an organization.

As part of that, last year one of the things we wanted to do – everyone knows the TurboTax name – but we have a free product too, that didn’t have awareness as much as we thought it would with the brand attached to it. So as a marketing strategy, the organization said we need to call more attention to the free product, to get people exposed to the brand, so that when they’re ready to buy a product when their tax situation gets more complex, they’ll already be familiar with us and have had a good customer experience.

To do that, we put a focus and emphasis on free. And one of the ways we wanted to do that is to put a focus on younger tax payers, folks who are 18 to late 20’s who have really simple, straight forward tax returns and looking across what we were doing from a brand advertiser standpoint, and across web buys that we did last year with everyone from AOL to MySpace, we saw a natural fit.

MySpace came to us and they have a very popular program called the MySpace secret shows, which is a series of concerts where they have very well known acts or upcoming acts, who do free concerts for MySpace users. It’s kind of like a surprise situation where they’ll announce the concert 48-72 hours before, you show up, you get a free ticket and you go to the show.

So we sponsored that, we hired a spokesperson for that, Tay Zonday, who has one of the most viewed videos in the history of Youtube, and we did a social media campaign – we went out to the shows, we had events around them, we talked to people, shot videos, we gave people a place to talk about the MySpace secret shows community, and really leveraging networks that already existed to expose them to our brand and it was great, to go out and be associated with bands like Fall Out Boy, or Lilly Allen the day she released her album in the U.S. Those types of things really did well.

We found that, in the research afterward, that people were six times more likely to come to TurobTax when thinking about doing their taxes, and then ten times more likely to tell their friends about it, and they had a better view of the brand. Overall we view that as a success, because at the end of the day, it’s about getting people into the brand, and this allowed us to do that in a really meaningful way.

You mentioned that you go into high gear before and during tax season. What are the common types of questions that you get from media during that time of year, and what are you looking for this year?

There are two paths we kind of go down when dealing with our journalist friends. One is, we have a product, so because tax law changes every year, TurboTax is a brand new product every year. And so there’s always that product PR piece of what’s new, what are you doing differently, how are you making it easier for people to get the largest refund.

And then there’s the other side of that where they come to us for tax expertise, because we have tax professionals here who basically write our software, they’re looking for resources to help them do stories on complex tax issues. For us it’s really fulfilling both of those sides. And now of course, with the rise of customer interactions in places like Twitter or Facebook or our live community, we have customer questions too. And so our job in communications is now really multi-faceted between the media, online influencers and customers.

And you’ve grown that Twitter following pretty rapidly. What do you think fueled that growth?

Well, the interesting thing is, if it’s June, people aren’t really thinking about taxes. It’s not top of mind, but what once the new year starts, their mind goes to two things when it comes to their money: overall personal finance and how they are doing to do this year, but also that they have to get their taxes done.

For most people, the largest sum of disposable income they get each year is their tax refund. For them, it’s, ‘I’ve got a big chore, I’ve got to get this thing done. How am I going to do it, and where am I going to find information’ So, we’re really relevant for that period of time and I think the reason you’ve seen the growth in people wanting to interact with a brand that’s based around taxes is because lets face it, taxes are not sexy. It speaks volumes to the work that the company has done with the product, getting people to a place where doing their taxes is so easy, that they want to tell others how easy it was.

So what we’ve done, is allow people to share their stories. We had contests, when people were done with their taxes, we challenged them simply by using TurboTax to answer a question. For example, one question was, ‘If you were elected President, what one thing would you make tax deductible? Put that in your status update on Twitter, Facebook or MySpace and you’ll be entered into our contest.’ We were having people say something with TurboTax, without paying them, without giving them anything but a question, so it was genuine to them. They where then sharing that with their networks. That really generated interest, because people said, ‘Well taxes are boring, but they’re doing what they can to help us,’ and so they want to interact.