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Marketing and membership.

Membership organizations offer marketing opportunities for all CPAs--from the managing partner to the most junior associate. Firms can develop policies that encourage staff and partners to participate in order to learn and demonstrate management skills while making worthwhile contributions to the community. For most firms, personal contacts are second only to referrals from existing clients as sources of new business.


CPAs should select organizations that interest them because those who participate purely for marketing purposes likely will be disappointed. Since membership is time-consuming, the organization should not be one that's particularly active during the busy season. Members should be approximately the CPAs age and at similar career levels, because relationships are easier to initiate and maintain between people at aboud the same career level and within a 10-year age range of each other.

Other members of these organizations are most likely marketing prospects. If the firm has no clients from an organization, the membership list will reveal whether it is an untapped resource or of little use for marketing purposes.

Budgeting for membership should include not only yearly dues and expenses but also the cost of attending meetings during the workday or when travel is

required. To support organization membership, firms should offer financial assistance for dues and meeting fees and allow time during the business day for meetings. They should have policies on the types of organizations to join. For example, some firms don't support political parties, while others make involvement in them a high priority.

Role models, such as partners who are good marketers, can invite less experienced staff members to events and demonstrate specific techniques and approaches. A strategy session before the event can outline marketing objectives and a debriefing can determine follow-up activities.


There are various levels of participation open to members, depending on the time and effort they want to invest.

* Member only. CPAs first should attend as many events as possible to determine if membership is appropriate and to build credibility. New members are rarely appointed to significant leadership positions, so an organization must be cultivated before it provides opportunities for marketing and leadership development. Relatively new members can invite clients or prospects to meetings. The cost is nominal and, by boosting attendance and helping to recruit new members, the member gains recognition and consideration for more responsible roles.

* Committee member. Committee service helps develop relationships and often is required for leadership positions. CPAs should volunteer for assignments that demonstrate their personal and professional strengths and make a significant contribution. Since most members don't volunteer, those who will be noticed.

* Chairperson. This role offers higher visibility, which builds personal and firm name recognition. To become a candidate, volunteer to prepare reports to the board of directors, conduct programs during meetings, issue press releases and sponsor committee meetings in your firm's offices.

* Officer or board member. These positions allow interaction with highly placed leaders inside and outside the organization. This helps develop leadership and marketing skills and can create photo and press opportunities that enhance both the organization's--and the CPA's--reputation.

Remember that there are also risks to being a joiner. People equate performance within an organization to performance on the job. If a member arrives late and leaves early, it gives the impression he or she is already too busy with existing clients. Because many organizations require a large commitment of time and resources, firms should recognize both the benefits and the obligations of membership.



A CPA should have prepared and rehearsed a brief introduction containing his or her name, title, employer, a short synopsis of what the firm does and his or her area of expertise or specialization. The old adage that you only have one chance to make a good first impression is particularly true here. CPAs sometimes stress features of the firm, such as size, areas of specialization and location, but potential clients are more interested in possible benefits, particularly how businesses similar to theirs have improved their bottom lines by saving taxes, increasing revenues or cutting expenses.

Marketing must be in good taste and compatible with the firm's strategy and the organization's goals. Here are some marketing techniques firms can adopt for organization involvement.

* Try to meet and remember the names of a set of number of people at each meeting. For every 10 people met, one is a potential client or productive referral source. Ask for business cards and jot down notes about individuals' special interests or the questions they asked.

* Develop appropriate professional relationships with organization members. At meetings, visit with three or four acquaintances. It may take several conversations before someone offers significant information about his or her personal interests or business problems.

* Go to an event with a member of the firm or friend only when each person is willing to make introductions to people the other has not met. At meals, try not to sit beside the same member more than once or twice. Find someone who may be attending for the first time and introduce yourself. When a new acquaintance is talking informally with others yo don't know, join the group and get further introductions.

* Meet the program chairperson and suggest yourself or others from your firm as speakers. Offer two or three program topics for future meetings or as emergency presentations should a speaker cancel on short notice. (The American Institute of CPAs provides several generic speech outlines at a nominal cost. Contact the AICPA order department at (212) 575-6590; (800) 334-6961 outside New York State.)


Proper follow-up develops ongoing relationships with potential clients. Four possible follow-up activities are:

* Get permission to put new acquaintances on a firm mailing list or develop an individualized form letter that requests a call if the recipient objects to being on the list. At meetings, introduce topics from the firm client newsletter and ask if there are questions.

* Send selected publications and reprints of articles to interested members. A timely, helpful mailing is likely to be remembered and appreciated.

* Invite prospects to lunch to discuss their business interests and concerns. Establish a list of key questions about future business outlook, possible expansion plans, current problems and planned changes in organizational structures. The answers can help a CPA to identify the prospect's significant needs and problems.

* Schedule future meetings at the prospect's offices to discuss how the firm can help with high-priority needs. Offer to return with a written proposal or, if this is premature, keep in touch and ask to be considered when circumstances change.


Marketing activities should be documented in notes on the events attended and the marketing objectives achieved. Include the names of key individuals contacted and significant points of conversation. Review these notes to help in planning marketing strategies for follow-up mailings and meetings.

Firm members should prepare regular reports for review by the managing partner or marketing director that briefly highlight efforts, results and resources expended through involvement in the organization. A similar annual analysis, supported by reports of activities and expenses, can track the marketing effectiveness of individual staff and partners as well as the effectiveness of the firm as a whole.


The objective of participating in membership organizations is to make productive community contacts that increase the firm's long-term success rate. Everyone in the firm must know what it has to offer to clients and how to follow up with contracts. If CPAs project the right image and use their resources wisely, they'll find that membership can bring many benefits.

Gary L. Fish, CPA, EdD, professor of accounting, department of accounting, Illinois State University, 435A Stevenson Hall, Normal, Illinois 61761, describes how participation in outside organizations can be an effective marketing tool.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Fish, Gary L.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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