Marketing doesn't have to be expensive: Tips for getting positive publicity for your CPA firm

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John Shank never gets tired of hearing people tell him they read about his firm – Barfield Murphy Shank & Smith (BMSS) – in the newspaper, local business journal and even major accounting publications. BMSS is always up to something, whether it's winning an award or proudly announcing that an employee has passed the CPA exam. If it's newsworthy, it's in print. Shank credits the talents of Marketing Coordinator, Lacey Bacchus for knowing how to draw attention to BMSS, which she calls an "amazing firm."

"I'm no marketing expert," she says. In fact, if you ask her, a big part of the credit really goes to the partners who have supported her efforts from the start. Buy-in from the leadership is key. "CPAs don't always see the value in marketing. But here, the partners have always shown appreciation for my efforts."

When she was hired as the first full-time marketing professional at BMSS, she realized that she needed an understanding of the issues that are important in accounting so that she could converse with editors intelligently on the subject. So she sat down and read all the accounting publications she could get her hands on... and she's been doing that ever since to stay on top of changes in the industry.

Next she picked up the phone and called the editors at each magazine and newspaper. With her marketing background, she knew that editors are always looking for a professional source to verify a story or provide a pithy quote. So Bacchus let them know that she just happened to work with a firm of some of the best accountants in Birmingham, Alabama, and that the editors were welcome to call her whenever they needed a reliable source for a story.

She's made it her business to know which accountants at BMSS like to talk to the press, which ones are willing to write an article for a magazine or even speak to a group on occasion. She knows the areas of specialization for each firm member, so that, often on short notice, she can connect a busy editor with a willing professional. By staying abreast of the key accounting issues, she has even been able to tip off an editor when a change in the industry was coming. With the relationships she has fostered with various editors, especially the ones in Birmingham, Bacchus has been able to bring a lot of attention to her firm.

What other tips does she have for marketers?

  • "You have to go about it for the right reasons," she says. "Don't approach marketing with the motive of gaining new clients." If you love your job and the firm you work for, new business will be a by-product of the information you put out there.
  • Throw your firm's hat in the ring for awards. Accounting and business magazines sponsor competitions regularly and Bacchus is becoming a pro at entering BMSS. The Birmingham Journal takes nominations each year for a "Best Places to Work in Birmingham" list, and BMSS has won several years in a row. Last year, they won a spot on Accounting Today magazine's Best Midsize Firm list. For Bacchus, filling out the applications and answering questions about the firm serves as a regular reminder of why she likes her job. But she takes the process a step farther, and gets the staff involved. "Should we apply for this?" she asks. "If so, why?" They get a chance to add their input, and when the firm wins, they are that much more invested. You can bet, when they are given an award, such as "Best Places to Work," Bacchus gets on the phone and lets her media contacts know about it.
  • Collect tidbits from the staff. Though it took some goading at first, Bacchus has gotten the staff members accustomed to bringing her their news. For example, if a BMSS employee joins the board of a local charity or acquires a new credential, they let her know, and she passes it along to the lifestyle editor of a local Birmingham publication that likes to print business news. If a piece of news is too small on its own to submit to an editor, she waits till she gets three or four tidbits and puts them together for an announcement.
  • Don't let nerves stop you. Bacchus says it takes courage to approach editors the first few times, but regular, courteous contact can build a relationship. Just be sure that you know when to back off so you don't become a pest.

Bacchus loves what she does, and she likes to say it is her job to make the firm "look pretty." But, she adds, it isn't hard. "BMSS is a wonderfully easy product to promote."

* Note: Here's another way to spread the word about events taking place at your firm. Send your news at [email protected] and we'll publish it in our section entitled "Your Firm's News."

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