CPA Firm Marketing

Move over…marketing needs to be at the M&A table

by Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk

You have to be living under a rock not to notice the ever-increasing appetite for growth via mergers and acquisitions in the accounting profession. What seems to get little focus or conversation is the marketing side of these transactions. Some are handled beautifully, outwardly seamless in execution. But often it is painfully obvious that the marketing and communication side of the equation was more of an afterthought than a strategic consideration.

I recently observed this scenario firsthand. In one case, on the day of the announcement the acquired firm’s website was changed to feature a message about the merger, including reassuring language to clients that neither their day-to-day contacts nor the services they depend upon will change. In fact, they had headshots of all the managers and partners on the new home page and a link to each person’s bio on the new firm’s site, so visitors could immediately see how their trusted advisors fit into the new firm environment. Every member of the newly acquired firm received their new business cards, stationery and other collateral materials on the day of the announcement as well. And based on the buttoned-up appearance of their external communications, I can only assume their internal messaging was handled with care as well.

On the other hand, I watched another merger not go nearly as well. Word of the merger hit the grapevine early and key employees started jumping ship. Clients, noticing this exodus, started looking for alternatives for their business too. Client communications were sporadic and unorganized and internal communication was nearly non-existent. And while there was an article in the industry press on the day of the merger, and a short paragraph added to the acquired firm’s website about the new structure, a true transition has yet to happen some six months later. I can only assume that clients have continued to follow their CPAs to new firms and the assets that the larger firm acquired turned out to be much less than originally anticipated.

Since no one thinks that the M&A activity is likely to come to a screeching halt any time soon, it is time for marketing to get a place at the table early in the process. With all the time, effort and money that goes into these transactions, it is a shame to see them fall flat due to poor communication and strategic planning. Marketing can and should have input on everything from the new firm’s branding, positioning and messaging, in the case of a true merger, to the best way to communicate the benefits of the new arrangement to clients, referral partners, press and certainly the employees of both firms. In most cases the marketing person is not financially involved in the transaction, he or she can remain impartial and serve as an advocate for the firm’s audiences as an added bonus. It only makes sense and I encourage anyone in this situation to explain the importance of marketing in M&A to the powers that be so the transition can be smooth and the assets can maintain their value in the end.

About Bonnie Ruszczyk

With 25 years of marketing experience, Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk helps professional services firms develop unique strategic marketing that will help them reach their growth and awareness goals. This can take many forms including serving as a fractional or part-time CMO, creating strategic marketing plans for the firm as a whole and the niches it serves, helping hire and manage internal marketing teams and much more.

She has been recognized as one of Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People (2012, 2013, 2016) and One to Watch (2011), Volunteer of the Year by the Association for Accounting Marketing and one of CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women in Accounting (2015, 2016). She is also an AAM board member, a former president of its Atlanta chapter and marketing committee chair for CPA Consultants’ Alliance. Bonnie quite literally wrote the book on online marketing for accounting firms, Take Your Marketing Online: Proven Ways to Grow Your Firm in the Digital Age, at the request of the AICPA. She also contributed a chapter to Bridging the Gap: Strengthening the Connection Between Current and Emerging Leaders in the CPA Profession and is a regular contributor and quote source for Accounting Today, Entrepreneur, US News & World Report, CPA Practice Advisor and other industry-related publications and websites.

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