Under pressure from the AICPA, H&R Block announced this week that it's taking one of its TV ads off the air. The ad in question shows a dark, forbidding street with blinking neon "CPA" signs. Then, off in the distance, a welcoming, clean H&R Block office beckons. Ah, an island of safety in a sea of piranhas.

Understandably, CPAs and the Institute were outraged by the campaign, which not-so-subtly seeks to capitalize on the profession’s well-publicized woes to convince consumers they’re in more competent and respectable hands with H&R Block.

The irony, of course, is that H&R Block owns one of the largest CPA firm rollups in the country, RSM McGladrey. The tax and accounting firm ranked 7th on Accounting Today's 2002 Top 100 Firms List with revenue of $507.38 million.

So why would Block pick on its own in a major TV ad campaign? Because the company’s bread and butter is still its high-volume tax preparation business. There’s a lesson in there for firms who choose to sell out to consolidators like Block and American Express, but that’s another story.

The ad also shows that it’s still open season on the accounting profession. It all started when whiskey purveyor Maker’s Mark slapped up a bunch of billboards around the country last June with the cleverly stinging tagline: "Disappears Faster than a Big Five Accounting Firm." And that was before Andersen was even indicted. The AICPA threw its weight around on that one, too, and the billboards soon came down.

So, Barry Melancon finally eked out a small victory in a year marked by scandal and battles lost. And he should be commended for using his stature to pressure Block into taking the distasteful and dishonest ad off the air. But it will take a lot more than a yanked TV ad to restore the image’s profession.

And the AICPA president is starting to bear more than a little resemblance to Pyrrhus, who inherited the throne of Epirus in Greece around 300 BCE. Although noted for his battle prowess and great strategic skills, he was also known for not knowing when to stop. After suffering heavy losses in 281 during a battle in which he defeated the Romans, he uttered his famous statement: "One more such victory and I am lost."

There’s a lesson in there, too.

 

 

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