Marketing core services and niche practices after Sarbanes-Oxley

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The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 turned six years old on July 30. One result of the many far-reaching effects of the legislation has been the growth of specialized practices in small and mid-sized accounting firms that auditors are prohibited from providing by the Securities and Exchange Commission's post-Sarbanes rules. The specialized services, called the niche practices, are designed to meet the needs of clients audited by larger firms, and have become an important focus for marketing in the smaller firms, in addition to their ongoing marketing of core audit and tax services.

SOX 404 compliance is a significant niche practice for Thompson Dunavant PLC, the largest Memphis-based CPA firm, according to the Memphis Business Journal. "We work with companies on their SOX compliance, and I help market those services to our clients and to other public companies we know are going to have to comply with the same regulations", says Megan Murdock, marketing coordinator.

Murdock helped to organize a SOX 404 conference held at Christian Brothers University in June, where George M. Wilson, CPA, vice president and principal of the SEC Institute was keynote speaker. The conference demonstrated Thompson Dunavant's prominence in SOX compliance. "We . . . invited a lot of companies in the Southeast region, so we [were] providing a service for them and at the same time trying to promote our risk management and assurance services practice", Murdock said. In August, Thompson Dunavant is planning to start a Webinar series on their niche practices.

David Curbo, audit director of Cannon and Co., another Memphis-based CPA firm, says that although they have become more aware of marketing because the environment is more competitive, their basic approach to marketing has not changed. "We tend to be more aware of building our referral network, networking with clients, attorneys, bankers, other business people, etc. But the basic approach hasn't changed", the Memphis Business Journal says. Although Cannon & Co. performs audits in specialized areas that large firms cannot do because of Sarbanes-Oxley, Curbo does not think that his firm is large enough to justify an investment in a marketing department.

Even though prospective clients will rarely select an accounting firm from an Internet search, an up-to-date Web site that introduces the firm and its specialized practices is a vital marketing tool, according to Bruce Clark writing for Accounting Today. Firms should make their Web sites come alive with video or even music. Low cost improvements might include video of a promotional presentation that can be transferred from a CD-ROM. If a company does not have a promotional video for a specialized practice, it should consider producing one. Another low-cost addition to a Web site would be the storage of electronic newsletters that the firm sends out to clients and prospects.

Rusty Butcher, partner and firmwide director of financial institutions at HORNE LLP says that while his firm has a marketing group, the marketing is "more for public relations and advertising", the Memphis Business Journal reports. A business development team at HORNE calls prospects and targets to introduce the firm, and engagement teams market to existing clients.

When an outbound telemarketing effort directs prospects to an informative Web site, it can be a good investment, according to Clark. "Not only will this drive tremendous traffic to your site, it will also result in appointments with potential clients, which should be the main reason for doing telemarketing in the first place."

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