Marketing directors and partners at accounting firms share the same goal: advancing the firm’s brand and helping it achieve specific growth and profitability targets. Yet lurking below their unified vision of firm success there is often a sense of internecine rivalry, explicit or more subtle, where marketing may almost be seen as an unwelcome intruder disrupting a community of serious-minded professionals.
This dynamic is a holdover from a previous era, the pre-Bates decision world wherein accountants and other knowledge-based professionals were not just hesitant about marketing but legally barred from engaging in the practice. The 1977 ruling in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona first removed restrictions on marketing by accounting firms, and though few of today’s partners remember that time, many still carry forward a vestigial distaste for the idea as a vague element of firm culture.
Knowing why some accounting partners harbor lingering doubts about marketing sets the stage for an active education strategy. Armed with this perspective, marketers can provide information and inspiration that creates a gentle on-ramp beckoning these holdouts to expand their vision of business development and embrace the power of accounting marketing.
It is about highlighting the connection between marketing and achieving the firm’s objectives, so they can begin to see the department as a valuable ally and not as an inconvenience – or worse, as a waste of resources. To increase partner buy-in and engagement around marketing, try these tactics:
- Push for a seat at the strategy table – At more conservative firms, marketing departments often go unrepresented in business strategy sessions. This makes it difficult for the marketing team to contribute visibly on the front end of growth initiatives. Ask to be included in high-level planning meetings, enlisting the support of ‘marketing-curious’ partners as well as business development teammates who understand marketing’s key role in helping the firm achieve growth targets. Few resistors are deeply opposed to letting marketing join planning sessions, especially in the face of widespread support.
- Participate actively in high-level planning – Once present at these meetings, marketers should take an active role (while being careful not to step on any toes of course). When growth strategies are under discussion, present marketing ideas that complement these plans. The goal is showing partners how marketing works hand in hand with business development to fulfill growth objectives.
- Focus on numbers – CPAs are ‘numbers people,’ so give them information in their preferred format: quantifiable metrics. Rather than arguing against what is at its core an emotionally-driven position, marketers can present data that show how high-growth firms approach marketing (they tend to take it seriously) as opposed to low-growth firms, which typically invest less.
- Play to your audience – Identify partners’ pet issues and present relevant marketing ideas around these topics or trouble spots. Whether it is developing a niche focus, managing regulatory changes and accounting updates, building industry-specific brand dominance or another concern, when partners feel personally invested in the outcomes they are more likely to support targeted marketing initiatives that leverage their specialized knowledge – along with marketing in general.
- Celebrate marketing wins – Be sure to relay details about situations where marketing has created new opportunities. This could be clients gained through social media interactions, speaking invitations stemming from topical articles, case studies that inspired initial contact or any other accomplishment that comes as a demonstrable result of marketing. Showing specific results helps partners recognize the concrete rewards of the firm’s marketing efforts and bolsters claims of meaningful but less visible brand enhancement.
Accounting partners do not hold a particular animosity towards marketing, and the disconnect between the two is not an issue that demands blame or fault. It is simply an artifact of times past coupled with a lack of understanding, best remedied by education and opportunity.
CPAs are smart people. When they can see a clear link between marketing and achieving firm goals, they will climb aboard the marketing bandwagon and quickly become some of your strongest advocates.
About Lauren Middlebrooks
Lauren Middlebrooks is a Marketing Coordinator with Mauldin & Jenkins.