Q&A: H&R Block's Robert Turtledove


Consumers these days are cutting back on just about everything. But if there's one thing they shouldn't do without, it's sound tax advice. And not just around April 15 either, says Robert Turtledove, H&R Block's newly hired chief marketing officer. That's because tough times call for an even closer look at spending, whether it's maximizing tax dollar returns or getting "the biggest refund back." For this reason, H&R Block's been spending more on advertising, including $130 million through April of this year, per Nielsen. (Tax services traditionally spend almost all of their ad budgets in the run-up to April 15.)

But Turtledove, who hails from a food and beverage and executive job search background, including most recently at, said it's not how much you spend, but what and how you spend it on that matters. Case in point: The brand is gearing up for a new campaign via DDB that will launch next year. While the details have yet to be announced, Turtledove said it's an example of how H&R Block's advertising will focus on the "power, creativity and energy" of the brand to get consumers thinking about it 24/7. He spoke with Brandweek reporter Elaine Wong.

Brandweek: You're H&R Block's first CMO since 2007, when Brad Iversen left the post. How's it feel to occupy a position that's been vacated for so long? Are you starting anew or picking up after your predecessor?

Robert Turtledove: We've had a good pool of talented people shepherd the H&R Block brand for the last couple of years. It always helps to keep a fresh pair of eyes coming in, almost taking stock and evaluating where we're at in the marketplace. The environment has changed so dramatically in the last few years, that regardless of where we were when we left off, the conditions and environment today really demand a relook at the situation.
What are your goals and expectations for the job? Top three items on your to-do list now.

The focus has always been on the client. This is a consumer/client-centric business. The first thing is listening, learning and immersing myself in the business. [Also], learning how it works, what are the critical issues and opportunities facing the brand and what do consumers think of the brand? And [thirdly], to be completely ready for the 2010 tax season with world-class service and great, knowledgeable and friendly tax professionals. [It's about] how will we deliver the best-in-class service to existing and new customers.

H&R Block most recently hired Omnicom Group's DDB. How is that client-agency relationship coming along? Any new work in progress yet?

I have DDB-Omnicom roots myself. (Turtledove spent nine years with TracyLocke, part of the Omnicom Group. He also worked with Omnicom's BBDO while vp, marketing at Pizza Hut.) I am very familiar with the attitude and approach they have to doing business. We are working very hard on next year's campaign. We're definitely on the same page with the work we have in progress. [We feel very comfortable] working together. It's like riding a bike with an agency and culture you know and are familiar with.

Where are you taking H&R Block next in its marketing efforts? What's your overall vision/philosophy for this brand?

This is a leadership brand. It takes a leadership role. That means what you can expect from us is leading edge ways to satisfy and reassure clients they are getting what they need in the right way and the way they want it. It means that for the first and next 55 years (H&R Block was founded in 1955) we will continue to be the most trusted name in an area that's very close and personal to people's hearts and lives and their families.

You come from a food and beverage and, most recently, executive job search background. How will these experiences help you out in this role?

On the restaurant side, a couple of things. . . . The restaurant service is about satisfying and serving people, so, making them want to go back because they have a special relationship with you, that part is applicable to the H&R Block brand.

[Regarding] some of my experiences later in life, it's a combination of [offering advice] and helping people out in areas they are not particularly good at, whether it's writing a resume or looking for jobs. People don't do that type of thing that often. With taxes, it's not an area people are particularly good at. They do it once a year and even then, most don't do it that well. There are some very interesting analogies with helping people out with things they're not good at.

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