New York (Feb. 24, 2003) -- Following a barrage of letters and phone calls from outraged CPAs and their leadership, H&R Block has agreed to remove a TV ad the American Institute of CPAs called "insulting" and offensive to the profession.The TV spot to be eliminated depicts a seemingly confused taxpayer, searching for a tax preparer while walking down dark streets filled with neon CPA signs. He eventually arrives at the bright H&R Block offices. Many CPAs called and emailed the AICPA, with some saying the ads made CPAs seem "daunting," "threatening," and "unsavory."

AICPA president Barry Melancon revealed the victory Monday in an open letter to his members, stating he and Block CEO Mark Ernst had conversations about two "insulting ads." The letter indicated that Ernst agreed to "instruct his marketing team to remove one of the ads from their ad schedule."

The move comes only a few weeks after Melancon sent a stinging letter to Ernst, saying he and his membership found two recent Block ads "disparaging to the CPA profession and to tens of thousands of our members." The AICPA also sent a subsequent letter to its members encouraging them to express their views directly to Ernst and to send copies of their letters to state consumer protection agencies and the Better Business Bureau.

H&R Block spokesman Bob Schneider acknowledged that the offensive will no longer run, but said it "is not being pulled in response to anything Mr. Melancon or AICPA members have done or said. We planned to swap that ad out for another, more seasonably appropriate ad for the latter half of tax season," he said.

While pleased with the removal of the one ad, Melancon said the fight is not yet over. His letter to AICPA members indicates that he "won't be satisfied until the other ad stops running." He also indicates that the AICPA will continue to monitor the content of H&R Block's ads and "depending on what they do, we will evaluate our next course of action."

The other ad in question has H&R Block urging customers to bring in tax forms from previous years and if Block preparers find mistakes a CPA missed, they will redo the forms.

- Seth Fineberg

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