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Accountants & advertising: image vs. need.

Fifteen years have passed since the famous Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona (1977) case which brought about significant changes in the legality of advertising by professionals. Professional codes of ethics which specifically banned advertising had to be rewritten to reflect these changes.

Although the Bates decision was promulgated in 1977, there has been rather little empirical research on the subject of advertising by professionals such as attorneys, physicians and dentists. One of the benchmark studies in the field of advertising among professionals was done by Shimp and Dyer (1978) who surveyed 1,400 attorneys in two states (with 485 usable responses) to determine their attitudes and intentions toward advertising approximately one year prior to the Bates ruling. The study found that a large majority of respondents were strongly opposed to attorney advertising. Opposition was particularly strong among older lawyers and those practicing in larger, corporate-oriented firms. In addition, most lawyers were also strongly opposed to an "anything goes" advertising approach where all forms of information content (including price) and all available media (including television) are acceptable. Since the Bates decision, research on attorneys' attitudes toward advertising has generally found negative perceptions (Smith and Meyer, 1980; Dyer and Shimp, 1980; and Stem, Laudadio, and Israel, 1981).

Some research studies have focused on additional professional groups to gauge differences in their perception of advertising. For example, Darling and Hackett (1978) researched attitudes held by accountants, attorneys, dentists and physicians toward advertising. Their study found significant differences in these four groups' attitudes regarding professional advertising. Although all of the groups had a negative perception of advertising, accountants and attorneys were more positive about the potential role of advertising in their professions.

Another study focusing on changes in CPAs' attitudes toward advertising between 1976 and 1988 found that accountants were generally more receptive to advertising than they had been 12 years earlier. In addition, less experienced accountants appeared to be more positive toward advertising (Heischmidt and Elfrink, 1991).

Hite and Fraser (1988) conducted two meta-analyses of attitudes toward advertising by professionals (such as accountants) covering 10 years of research findings. Results indicate that a rather large attitudinal gap still separates consumers and professionals. While consumers favor increased professional advertising, professionals continue to be reluctant to use it, fearing that negative impacts on image, credibility, and dignity are likely, with little benefits to consumers. However, the authors imply that increased exposure to professional advertising tended to reduce the resistance to it by professionals.

Have attitudes toward advertising by accountants become more favorable? How do such factors as years in practice or type of practice (solo vs. group) influence attitudes? A study was designed to answer these types of questions.

Methodology

Data for this study were gathered from questionnaires mailed to a randomly selected sample of accountants located throughout the contiguous 48 states. The mailing list was obtained from a mailing list broker who prepared the sample. One thousand questionnaires were mailed out and 243 were returned yielding a 24.3% return rate. Questions included practice characteristics, attitudes toward advertising, and their own use of advertising, ad agencies, etc. as well as marketing TABULAR DATA OMITTED expenditures. The practice data included years of practice, solo versus group, type of specialty (if any), geographic area and annual revenues of their firm. Attitudinal measures about advertising were obtained by using a seven-point agree/disagree scale ranging from one (1) strongly disagree to seven (7) strongly agree to nineteen attitudinal statements.

Overall Findings

The findings displayed in Table 1 point out the overall negative attitudes held by accountants toward advertising. A consistent pattern of results occurred in all areas of issues covered in the study. While the overall results revealed negative attitudes, there were significant differences in attitudes when accountants were broken down into subgroups of favorable/unfavorable attitudes toward advertising. The favorable/unfavorable groups were established by using the grand means for all respondents on all attitudinal scales, and defining the unfavorable as equal to or less than the grand mean and favorable as above the grand mean.

Table 1 shows the mean attitudinal score for each of the 19 statements used in the study. Higher scores indicate higher levels of agreement with a statement. This table reveals that while most accountants feel advertising would heighten understanding of the need for accounting services, there would be several negative outcomes. These would include:

1. Advertising would confuse the public and impair public confidence in accountants;

2. Client dissatisfaction would be intensified;

3. Deceptive ads would eventually be used; and

4. Stringent regulations would be needed to control advertising.

Differences Among Respondents

Respondents were analyzed for differences based on age, practice characteristics, and other criteria. The respondents who were more favorable toward advertising accounting services were:

1. Younger;

2. Had been in practice a fewer number of years;

3. Were more likely to have used an advertising agency;

4. Rated yellow page display ads higher;

5. More likely to have a brochure available for clients;

6. Rated radio as a more effective medium;

7. Less likely to rate marketing activities as unproductive; and

8. Spent a higher percentage of revenue on marketing.

The findings indicate that younger accountants not only favor advertising more, but are also more likely to spend money for marketing activities. They are also more likely to avail themselves of the services of facilitating marketing organizations such as ad agencies and use promotional tools such as firm brochures.

Accountants' Use of Marketing Tools

The following marketing tools were most widely used by accountants:

* Yellow page ads (61.0% using),

* Newspaper ads (37.0%)

* Seminars (34.6%)

* Brochures (28.3%)

Radio was used by 13.8% of the respondents while television ads as well as billboards were used by only 3.1% and 2.0%, respectively.

Respondents were also asked to rank these various marketing tools in order of most effective to least effective. Seminars and brochures were ranked as the two most effective techniques. These were followed by newspaper ads and yellow page ads. Television, radio, and billboard ads were ranked as the least effective techniques. The higher ranking of seminars compared to their relative use many mean that many firms are planning to use seminars in the future as a marketing tool.

Respondents were also asked why they didn't engage in more marketing activities. While some were concerned about how they might be perceived by clients (29.5%) and other accountants (14.6%), the major concern was the benefit/cost trade-off expressed by accountants who responded that it "costs too much" (52.4%) and that "costs outweigh benefits" (51.6%). In other words, the value of marketing to many firms in terms of increased revenues, status, and position is questionable. Other reasons cited for not using more marketing were: no competitive pressure (25.2%), not enough knowledge of what to do (18.9%), and other reasons (20.1%).

Marketing Budgets/Personnel

About 33% of the firms responding reported hey made some allocation for marketing expenditures. The median amount was 12% of revenues and the highest percentage was 18% of revenue. This included total expenditures for all marketing activities such as promotion, consulting fees, and marketing personnel.

Many of the firms had part- or full-time marketing personnel in their firms. Part-time personnel were used by 8.3% of the firms and 3.5% had full-time marketing staffs.

Use of External Marketing Services

Respondents were also asked whether they had used external marketing service providers. Marketing consultants were the most frequently used service provider. While only 2% reported using a marketing research firm, 10.2% stated that they had completed some type of formal marketing research. Evidently, most of these projects were completed by internal staff or by consultants.

Conclusion

Although many changes have taken place in professional services marketing over the 15-year period since the Bates decision, this study reveals that the majority of accountants still hold negative attitudes toward advertising their services. However, younger accountants are more favorably disposed to advertising and the use of marketing activities than older members of the profession. This would indicate that future generations of accountants may be more open to marketing as a legitimate business function.

Another likely future outcome would result from experience with the use of specific tools. Accounting firms which use various marketing tools such as seminars or brochures effectively will be more likely to experiment with other tools. There is also evidence that the use of marketing tools such as advertising brings acceptance, especially from consumers.

It also appears that the demand for marketing services designed specifically for this accountants should expand in the future. Many accountants do use yellow page advertising, brochures and seminars to promote their services. Some firms are also using external marketing service providers and some have part-time or full-time marketing personnel. However, firms which specialize in providing such services to professional groups will continue to increase in the future.

References

1 Bates v. State Bar of Arizona (1977), 97 S. Ct. 2691, 34 U.S., L.W. 4895.

2 Darling, John R. and Donald W. Hackett (1978), "The Advertising of Fees and Services: A Study of Contrasts Between and Similarities Among Professional Groups," Journal of Advertising, Volume 7 (Spring), 23-24.

3 Dyer, Robert F., and Terence A. Shimp (1980), "Reactions to Legal Advertising," Journal of Advertising Research, Volume 20 (April), 43-51.

4 Heischmidt, Kenneth A., and John Elfrink (1991), "The Changing Attitudes of CPAs Toward Advertising," Journal of Advertising, Volume 20 (June), 39-51.

5 Hite, Robert E., and Cynthia Fraser (1988), "Meta-Analyses of Attitudes Toward Advertising by Professionals," Journal of Marketing, Volume 52 (July), 95-105.

6 Shimp, Terence and Robert Dyer (1978), "How The Legal Profession Views Legal Services Advertising," Journal of Marketing, Volume 42 (July), 74-81.

7 Smith, Robert E. and Tiffany S. Meyer (1978), "Attorney Attitudes Toward Professional Advertising," in Subhash C. Jain (ed.) 1978 AMA Educators' Proceedings, Chicago: American Marketing Association, 288-291.

8 Stem, Donald E., Jr., Dante M. Laudadio and Jeff T. Israel (1981), "The Effects of Attorney Seniority on Legal Advertising Practice and Attitudes," in Kenneth Bernhardt et al. (eds.), 1981 AMA Educators' Proceedings, Chicago: American Marketing Associations, 237-240.

Robert E. Stevens, PhD, is a professor of marketing at Northeast Louisiana University. He received his PhD in marketing from the University of Arkansas and is the author of 11 books and more than 80 articles.

David L. Loudon, PhD, is Head of the Management and Marketing Department at Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, Louisiana. He obtained his PhD in marketing from Louisiana State University. He is the author of numerous articles and books on various marketing topics.

C. William McConkey, PhD, is an associate professor of marketing at Northeast Louisiana University. He received his PhD from the University of North Texas and is the author of several articles on various business topics.

Paul Dunn, PhD, is Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Small Business at Northeast Louisiana University where he is also Director of the Small Business Development Center and Small Business Institute. His research and writing have appeared in numerous business publications.
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Author:Stevens, Robert E.; Loudon, David L.; McConkey, C. William; Dunn, Paul
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:1837
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