The IRS Remains the Villain on Screen and Off

Sweeney CEO Jim Sweeney was recently quoted in a Tax Notes article about the negative portrayal of the IRS in film and television. Read the full article here.

Changing Perception

Marketing and public relations professional Jim Sweeney said that media in all forms has an impact on public perception, but the effects are complex. “For the audience segment that has no predisposition, the media content can be educational, helping them to form opinions,” Sweeney said.

“For the audience segment that already has a negative perception of the government and IRS, the media coverage and film portrayals will simply serve to reinforce their existing beliefs.”

Referencing what he called the “Trump Effect,” Sweeney described the last group of viewers: “And for the rare bird that actually has a positive perception of the government and IRS, the portrayal will likely instigate them to some action and turn them against the media.” Sweeney suggested a comparison with film depictions of other governmental agencies, specifically those that depict NASA or the military in a negative light but don’t sway the public’s perception.

“There is likely a seed of truth in all communications — even in science fiction — and the public is able to consider all the information and draw conclusions. If the general conclusion — verified through research — is that the IRS is not a force of good, yet we can prove that the IRS is doing more good than harm, then certainly marketing can help change perceptions for the better,” Sweeney said. “But that’s a lot of ifs and maybes.”

Henry Jones, a producer at 20th Century Studios, said that while a favorable portrayal of the IRS —for instance, in a workplace TV comedy — could delve into the details of the agency, it needs to center around “a character, of course, that’s likable.” The show could never entirely focus on the IRS because it would be written off as government propaganda in the “conscious age” that exists, Jones added. “This is a person, this is his job, but the story has nothing to do with that job, but the job can still serve as a backdrop. You can still get the nuances of the profession and see it,” Jones said, referencing the 2008 movie Pineapple Express. In it, the viewer sees the poor treatment that the main character receives as a process server, but his job is separate from the main storyline of him fleeing a hit man.

Jones explained that a TV writer could lean into the stereotypes of the IRS and how the public sees it and find the interesting take on the IRS agent, perhaps showing that the individual is compassionate.

Rebecca Wrenn

Director of Client Services and Operations

Rebecca joined Sweeney in 2014 as an account executive and subsequently shifted roles in 2016 to support the agency leadership team in successfully establishing a highly effective, full-service creative capability, including branding, design, and video production services. In 2020, she pivoted once again to take on a senior account leadership role while simultaneously leading agency operations. With nearly a decade of strategic marketing, communications and creative experience, Rebecca currently directs several agency account teams, while also managing critical aspects of agency’s operations. Her deep knowledge of the account management process and her high creative aptitude are an exceptional benefit to the agency and its clients.