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As Tax Time Nears, IRS Review Enters Final Phase

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NEW YORK -- Just two weeks after picking finalists, the Internal Revenue Service will hear from the contenders this week in a pitch focusing on credentials and case histories.

The finalists include New York shops Young & Rubicam and Foote, Cone & Belding, and the Atlanta office of BBDO, said sources. (Incumbent Cossette Post in New York is not participating, sources said.) The IRS has budgeted $80-100 million for all marketing efforts over the next five years.

The Washington, D.C., client asked the shops to outline relevant client experience and explain how they would service the business, according to sources. No creative concepts were requested.

Each agency will get about two hours to present, sources said. The meetings will be held tomorrow and Wednesday at IRS headquarters. A selection will be made by mid-April, said an IRS representative.

An RFP that the IRS circulated in December indicated that the client was seeking a shop that could provide an array of marketing services, including traditional advertising, interactive marketing and direct marketing, as well as media planning and buying.

As such, finalists have put together teams of executives from their core agencies, as well as related firms. Y&R's team, for example, includes executives from direct shop Wunderman, brand consultancy Landor Associates and Mediaedge:cia, said sources.

The RFP was due Feb. 8, and the cut to finalists took place this month. (Agencies that did not advance include TBWA\Chiat\Day and Bozell, both New York, and J. Walter Thompson, Atlanta.) The review was triggered, in part, by the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, which sought to make the government agency more user friendly and urged it to get more taxpayers to file electronically, with the goal of 80 percent by 2007.