Sales Tax Help for Ad Agencies: Joe Dietz

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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 19, 2000. All rights


Writing for Business: Carol Andrus


In today’s information-overloaded culture, good business

etiquette means getting to the point fast, says Carol Andrus,

whose business, Write On Target (212-724-1958,,

teaches executive assistants how to communicate effectively.


Forbes said `I read over 10,000 business documents in a year —

you can’t make it simple enough for me,’" Andrus points out.


inundated with information — nobody has enough time and people

want direct conversation, a real voice."

Workplace 2000, a full day of training and celebration of professional

secretaries, will feature Andrus on Tuesday, April 25, at 9 a.m. at

the Princeton Marriott. Her seminars include "Skills We Need for

Workplace 2000," and "Fat-Free Writing." Rhonda


the owner of Dress for Less, gives a seminar on how to "Enhance

Your Professional Image," and Art Masotes of Amerada Hess

lectures on "Electronic File Management." Cost: $98, including

breakfast, lunch, and materials. Call 609-586-9446 (

Andrus started her own communication consulting company because she

was appalled at how other communication consultants were teaching

awful grammar and bad style. "One company’s workbook was full

of errors, things like `Whom should I say is calling?,’" she says.

"Since I live in New York City, and it’s the home of bad grammar,

I figure I’d create my own seminar company."

The daughter of a German bookkeeper and a British soldier, Andrus

was exposed to many different languages while growing up. She earned

a BA in economics and German from Duke University, Class of 1957,

and after working as a secretary in New York, moved to France to study

romance languages at the Sorbonne. She later returned as a


tour guide in 1963, and has written for publications such as the


Voice and Miami Herald. Clients of Write on Target include New Jersey

Transit, Merrill Lynch, American Institute of Banking, and American


The next time you write a memo or prepare a business document, keep

these points in mind, says Andrus:

Write the way you speak. "The `enclosed please find’

days are just gone," she says. "Use words like you, I, and

we." Don’t use the passive voice. "Why say `We had a


with John’ when you could just say `We discussed the project with


Keep memos under one page. "Tell people in the first

few lines of your memo what it’s about," says Andrus, "and

make the last line your action line — tell them what you


Adds Andrus: "Any paragraph that’s longer than seven lines we

re-read. Average business writing is on a 10th grade level."

Also emphasize important comments with bold, underlines, capital


and bullet points.

Delete what your reader does not need to know. "You

still see a lot of bedtime stories written in memos," says Andrus

"For example, someone writes `Gene Gold called me yesterday from

our Denver office to tell me,’ — does your reader really need to

know that? Otherwise, it’s just `Gene Gold told me that…’ or `We

have a big problem in our Denver Distribution Center.’"

Even in E-mail, don’t ask your reader to scroll down page after page.

Have a "can do" attitude. "The top blip on

all the employment charts is attitude," says Andrus. "Do you

have an `I can do it’ attitude for the new technology and all the

things in the workplace?"

In most cases, secretaries will say no, and it’s time to change that,

says Andrus.

Whether you’re a secretary or manager, good writing skills are not

only a nice touch, they can pull you up the corporate ladder, says

Andrus. "The most sought after skills are communication


she says. "Many people realize that no one in their office can

write, and now they’re making six figures because they started writing

supervisor’s memos, then reports. Now they’re writing for the


of the company."

Top Of Page
Sales Tax Help for Ad Agencies: Joe Dietz

Nobody likes to pay sales tax — especially not a

year after the fact. But advertising and public relation firms have

had to do just that on many occasions, thanks to a vague state law

that applies taxes to some advertising services and not others.

"For over 30 years, the advertising industry and the Division

of Taxation had been hampered by a poorly written and poorly


sales tax law that caused a great deal of difficulty in audits of

corporations that advertise, or ad agencies and public relations firms

that serviced these companies," says Joe Dietz, executive

vice president of Richartz, Fliss, Clark & Pope, an ad agency in


"What happened to the ad agencies is that they would interpret

the services they provided their client as not subject to tax. At

some future date, the ad agency was audited and the auditor determined

that the ad firm had incorrectly not applied sales tax. Those firms

then would go back to the client on bended knee and ask them to ante

up, or they no longer had the account and there was no one to request

payment from. In order to avoid that problem many ad agencies charged

six percent on everything they did, and in that case the advertiser

definitely suffered."

A year ago, Dietz, along with other members of the communications

industry, worked with the Division of Taxation to rewrite the


law, and as a result, the sales tax on many services offered by


and public relations firms has been dropped. "It put New Jersey

ad agencies on an equal footing with their competitors in surrounding

states where no sales tax was ever charged on services," says

Dietz, "and secondly, it finally recognized ad agencies and PR

firms as professional firms such as lawyers, doctors,


To help members of the industry grasp the sales tax code under the

new law, Dietz put together the "Sales Tax Guide for Advertising

and Public Relations Professionals," published by the American

Association of Advertising Agencies (free by calling 212-682-2500).

He’s also presenting a seminar on sales tax at the Business Marketing

Association meeting on Tuesday, April 25, at 8:30 a.m. at the


Inn. Also on the program are Denise Lambert of the state taxation

department and Alan J. Preis, a CPA from Florham Park. Call

609-409-5601. Cost: $95 (

The former president of New Jersey’s oldest advertising firm, J.M.

Kesslinger & Associates in Union, Dietz has a BA in economics from

Amherst College, Class of 1949. In 1995 he founded the Advertising

and Communications Sales Tax Coalition, an organization intended to

write a guide on existing sales tax law that would be beneficial to

ad agencies, public relations firms, advertisers, and even the New

Jersey Division of Taxation. "Top people in the NJ Division of

Taxation were unable to agree on what was and what was not susceptible

to sales tax when I first wrote the proposition paper," he says.

"A good deal of the problem stemmed from the fact that there was

no clear definition of what comprised `advertising services,’ and

the law specifically stated that advertising services were subject

to sales tax."

In 1998 Dietz helped get an amendment to the tax law that clarified

which advertising services are subject to tax. It essentially limited

the definition of "advertising services" to the processing

services involved in direct mail advertising. Everything else was

no longer subject to tax.

The ultimate effect of the amendment was to elevate ad and public

relations firms to the level of a profession, much like lawyers and

doctors. "All of the creative work — art, design, and copy

— is no longer subject to tax," says Dietz. "Everything

an agency or design firm up to the point of delivery of a disk to

the printer is no longer subject to tax." It also put New Jersey

ad agencies on an equal footing with competitors in surrounding states

where no sales tax is charged.

But there is still some confusion on certain points of the law,


where copyrighted artwork is involved, says Dietz. "Those create

some interesting tax situations and those are outlined in the new

guide," says Dietz. "It’s so complex many are still fuzzy

as to what is and isn’t subject to tax."

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