Report From The Association For Accounting Marketing Summit

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13th Annual Association for Accounting Marketing Summit Attracts Over 300 Marketing Professionals

By Lisa A. Rozycki, Marketing Director, Reinsel & Company LLP for the Association for Accounting Marketing

(1) The best marketed services will win the game, (2) speak the language of your co-workers to smooth over the personality differences between accountants and marketers, and (3) discover the best media strategies when dealing with a crisis such as the Andersen/Enron debacle were the messages over 300 attendees of the 2002 Association for Accounting Marketing Summit (AAM) heard from the keynote speakers earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas. The three-day conference is among the association's chief annual events and draws accounting marketers from the United States, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.

Marketers attended 25 workshops on subjects surrounding the conference theme "Measuring Performance, Tracking Results". Workshop topics included Creating A Marketing Plan, Measuring Marketing Activities, Trashing the Timesheet, and The Proposal Process and Tracking Results.

The event featured the expertise of three top-notch, high-energy keynote speakers: Bill Reeb, an award winning author and speaker and listed by Accounting Today as one of the Top 100 Most Influential CPAs; Janet Slaughter Eissenstat, former President of a communications firm who now works for the Chief of Protocol of the United States and leads advance teams for First Lady Laura Bush; and Christine Holton Cashen, a motivational speaker who received a standing ovation at the end of the conference for her humorous, but practical ideas on “getting what you want with what you've got.”

Bill Reeb

Bill Reeb, who serves on Council and on the Strategic Planning committee of the AICPA, opened the conference with personal reflections regarding the accounting profession. He says that the future of the CPA profession is overflowing with opportunity for all CPAs, whether in public, industry, education, government, semi-retired or retired. However, he is quick to say that it is not the same opportunity as we have enjoyed in the past. "The overall opportunity for the delivery of traditional public accounting services has been shrinking per practicing public CPA over the past fifteen years," says Reeb. "In other words, we are out-supplying demand for our core services."

He also says that nonpublic CPAs will become the single biggest purchaser of services from public accountants. "From a marketing perspective, this is huge," says Reeb. He says that we need to offer services that can help improve the functional areas of a business and the best-marketed services will win the game. He notes that in smaller companies, younger CPAs are hired as CFOs because of the ability to pay lower salaries. He says that we are selling to our own kind but often think that we can outperform them on core services. "What we need to do is offer more specialized services that can help businesses run better," says Reeb.

Reeb says there is a need for CPA professionals to provide both expert (tax, financial statement, audit) and advisory services (CVA, CFP) but creating an organization that meets the variety of demands for the generalist CPA and the specialist is the biggest challenge facing the public accounting industry today. "More formal strategic alliances will become commonplace in the next five to seven years because most firms won't have the time to get all of the certifications necessary to meet market demand," says Reeb.

Christine Holton Cashen

Christine Holton Cashen offered advice on smoothing over the personality differences between accountants and marketers. She says the key to building relationships is to discover the secrets to creating instant rapport, handling "difficult people" and working as a true team. She told the audience to write these three statements down:

  • Say what you mean.
  • Mean what you say.
  • Don't be mean when you say it.

Cashen says the key to effectively communicating with accountants is to understand their personalities and to speak the language of the person you are speaking to. She says that people you work with want to be treated as if they are wearing a sign—“Make Me Feel Important and Make Me Look Good” —because that's what we all want.

She notes that the kinds of communicators can be broken out into four types:

  • Relators- who know everything about everyone in the firm.
  • Initiators- who need freedom and are “why?” people. They are always looking for alternatives.
  • Drivers- who are “get it done” people. They want detail.
  • Analytics- who are detail oriented and are the “how?” people. They keep their distance.

Most marketing professionals are initiators and most accountants are analytics— totally opposite personalities. The key to communicating with Partners, says Cashen, is to speak the language of the person you are speaking to. By doing so, you can effectively communicate your ideas and successes to your Partner group. “Since analytics like to here how things are going to be accomplished, marketers should effectively communicate their ideas and successes by saying “This is how we can successfully implement this,” says Cashen.

Partners often kill good ideas prematurely and marketers don't question why. “Ask what the person likes about the idea and doesn't like about the idea,” says Cashen. She challenged the AAM conference attendees to come up with twenty-five ideas to solve a fictitious problem in an accounting firm. The audience succeeded in coming up with twenty-five. Some were good. Some were not so good. Her point was if you want to get a few good ideas, brainstorm with your peers and come up with a list of a lot of them. Then go through the list and pick out the really good ones.

Janet Slaughter Eissenstat

Janet Slaughter Eissenstat, who leads advance teams for First Lady Laura Bush, told the audience that due to the Andersen situation, the accounting industry is under fire and we must discover the best communication strategies to deal with the fallout. She gave the audience some power tools necessary to master any communications encounter from client meetings to press events.

Eissenstat says that in any media interview, the press is always looking for negative words in an interview. She says that it's necessary to put control of the interview in the hands of your firm's representative and the control mechanism in an interview is when the question meets the answer. She says that the key to controlling an interview is to learn how to answer each question quickly and effectively so that you have essentially dispensed with the question. This is done through short, acknowledgment phrases just like the ones you use everyday. Examples of acknowledgement phrases include: “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, “it depends”, “that's not the real issue”, “let me put it in perspective”, “not necessarily”, “you've raised several important points”, “let me come back to that”.

Eissenstat offered six key steps to developing your message and effectively communicating:

  1. Identify your target audience (clients, centers of influence, etc.).
  2. Ask what your target audience is concerned about (profitability, reliability, accessibility, etc.).
  3. Develop a positive vocabulary.
  4. Identify your negative vocabulary. What does your target audience not want to hear from you. Do not repeat these words even to deny them.
  5. Use your good words to develop your key messages.
  6. Develop supporting materials in the form of positive facts and illustrations. Supporting materials should be used to back up your key messages. They are the “proof” of your position.

Eissenstat told the audience that nothing puts your communications skills to the test like a crisis. “When the phones are ringing, decisions are being challenged, and clients are questioning their relationship with you, you need the power of positive communication,” says Eissenstat.

She offered ten basic steps for developing a crisis plan:

  1. Identify potential risks
  2. Identify the crisis team
  3. Develop alternative systems for team communications
  4. Identify target audiences
  5. Identify and update all communications channels for reaching target audiences
  6. Establish protocols for decision making and approvals
  7. Align coordination activities with other organizations and activities
  8. Prepare messages and tactics in advance
  9. Test your crisis team and practice implementation of your plan
  10. Continually update your plan

“If there is no formal communications structure in place, informal networks will be relied upon and communication will break down in a crisis,” says Eissenstat. “When something happens, have all the pieces in place to respond appropriately,” she says.

Visit the AAM Web site for more information.This is the first of a series of articles on sessions presented at the 2002 AAM Conference.

The Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM), headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is the leading trade/educational organization for individuals working in marketing, sales, and communication for accounting firms. Since 1989, AAM has provided members with the information, resources, and market intelligence needed to excel and grow in their careers.

For more information about joining AAM or to be placed on a mailing list for next year's Marketing Summit in Boston, MA in June 2003, contact Lisa Daniels at 816.221.1296, or [email protected].

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