As part of a series of interviews with prominent members of the profession, AccountingWEB sits down with Tracy Crevar Warren, veteran CPA firm marketing director and Incoming President of the Association for Accounting Marketing, which meets this week in Boston. We asked Tracy to share some of her insights as a pioneer of the accounting marketing profession, and to get her perspective on the ever changing role of marketing in public accounting firms.
AccountingWEB (AW): Tracy, you've been serving as the director of marketing and business development for (High Point, NC-based) Dixon Odom PLLC for 13 years now. In that time, Dixon Odom has grown from a $10 million firm to a $55 million firm. Both your tenure and the growth of the firm are quite impressive! To what do you credit your longevity and success with the firm?
Tracy Crevar Warren (TCW): First of all you have to love what you do. Not only do I have a passion for my job, but a true respect for the people that I work with each day. We all push each other, which in turn makes us all stronger and able to accomplish so much together. I have also truly enjoyed the challenge of helping to carve out the accounting marketing profession. How often do you have the opportunity to be able to help shape and mold a new profession? What an amazing ride it has been.
AW: How has your role changed since taking over marketing at Dixon Odom?
TCW: The role has changed enormously during my career. It has gone from that of helping to build a foundation and helping to change a culture, to helping to develop the business and the business development team. That includes so many things such as developing infrastructure, implementing marketing and sales training programs, to helping the firm develop the practice - just to name a few.
There is also a team of marketing and business development professionals in place. In fact we have at least one person in each of our profit centers now, so I am actively involved with these folks on a regular basis. I remember when it was almost taboo to talk about sales, but now this is a regular part of the mix. In many ways the role has gone from tactical to strategic, and the role has doubled many times over as we have grown so much. There are more people to work with and much more responsibility as we have so much going on in the marketing area. It has definitely been exciting to be involved in the whole process.
AW: To what extent do you see the level of acceptance of professional marketing directors in CPA firms today?
TCW: It is exciting to see the level of acceptance of accounting marketing continue to grow. What was once a 10-month tenure for many marketing directors has emerged into a true profession. We are even seeing marketing directors being admitted to partnership positions in firms. Although our profession is still in its infancy, it has definitely come a long was in a short time.
AW: What are the qualities of the best (most successful) marketing directors out there?
TCW: Proactive, focused, goal oriented, diplomatic, able to deal with many personalities and healthy competition, tenacious, strategic, strong communication skills, the ability to motivate and be positive . . . you know, Superman!
AW: What's the one best piece of advice that you would give to newer marketing directors struggling to find their place and establish credibility within their firms?
TCW: Gain a clear understanding of your role and work closely with upper level management to help accomplish this. Know that it will take time so build on small successes. Stay the course. Be able to demonstrate results. Obtain a mentor who has been successful in the industry. Always be positive.
AW: What factors should CPA firm partners take into consideration when contemplating whether or not to hire their first marketing director?
TCW: First of all the firm must be committed to making marketing work within their firm. Also they must know that the process will take time, not just happen over night. There must be a close working relationship between the partnership and the marketing professional(s), which will take much effort on both the partners and the marketing director for it to truly succeed. Having the right person is definitely key. It is many times difficult to find someone with the right qualities, but it is not impossible. Talk to others in the profession and find out what works and what does not. It can be quite beneficial to have someone to guide you through the process. There are many consultants that you can retain to assist you with this task. It is not always going to be easy but nothing worth having is anyway.
AW: You are about to step into the volunteer role as President of the Association for Accounting Marketing, the organization dedicated to CPA firm marketing professionals. Can you tell us the 30-second "elevator speech" of what AAM is all about?
TCW: The Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) is a professional trade association comprised of over 500 marketing and business development professionals, CPAs, partners, educators, consultants and other in the industry from the US, Canada, England and France. AAM acts as catalyst for furthering the marketing and sales efforts of our participating firms. Inherent to this mission is a focus on education and professional skills development to enable our members to add value to their firms and act as a compass for the rapidly changing environment. For more information you can visit AAM’s website at www.accountingmarketing.org or attend our 14th Annual Marketing Summit – Revolutionary Marketing to be held in Boston June 11-13.
AW: How has membership in AAM helped you and your career?
TCW: It has helped in so many ways. First of all it has helped me to have a large network of professionals who do what I do every day. I remember when I first started in the profession there were only a few of us but now there are hundreds and it is nice to be able to strategize with your peers as you learn so much from each other. And the camaraderie that you develop with your peers is priceless. AAM has always helped me to stay current on trends in the profession. This has been beneficial as I have been able to help to implement programs in my firm that keep us competitive. This year for example, we had some great educational sessions on Sarbanes-Oxley, which was tremendously beneficial as the entire profession struggles with how to best bring these new regulations into your everyday environment.
AW: What will be your priorities as President of AAM?
TCW: First of all to continue to meet and exceed the needs of the members, including more educational opportunities, networking programs and allowing professionals to continue to find better ways to help build their own firm’s marketing and business development areas. A second priority is to continue to grow the association not only in North America but internationally. This year’s conference is attracting professionals from the US, Canada, England, France and Japan. I would definitely like to foster that in the future. Helping to keep the association and its membership on the cutting edge of what is happening in the profession is also a priority especially in light of the dynamic environment in which we operate today.
AW: Knowing what you know today, what might you have done differently during your 13-year-and-counting career at Dixon Odom to achieve an even better result both individually and for the firm?
TCW: It is always easy to have 20-20 hindsight vision, but we have made great strides during the past 13 years. Who is to say whether we could have done other things that would have brought us further along than we are today? I must say that it has been a team effort though. Everyone in the firm is a part of the marketing and business development team from the receptionist to the partners and it takes us all working on this together to make it happen.
AW: Thanks Tracy! Congratulations on all your success and we wish you much more. Hope you have a great conference in Boston!