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CPA firms and their marketing directors; marketing professionals have a lot to offer - if CPAs make the most of their expertise.

NINA HAMBERG is President of Hamberg Taylor Associates, San Francisco, a marketing consulting firm specializing in the accounting and legal professions. Before founding the firm, she held in-house marketing positions for eight years and was director of marketing for KMG Main Hurdman, San Francisco.

Marketing professionals have a lot to offerCPAs make the most of their expertise. tin directors have la ed a role in CPA firms for more than a decade. Unfortunately, the relationship between firms and marketing professionals can be a rocky one. In-house marketing directors leave their positions after an average of only two years, frequently because of misunderstandings about what marketers can or should accomplish. Often neither the marketing professionals nor firm managers are quite aware of what caused the problem and what can be done to build a more productive and harmonious collaboration.

If CPAs are to enjoy the benefits of in-house, professional marketing expertise, they must have a blueprint for integrating nonequity professionals into their firms. They also must have a clear idea of what they want before they interview the first candidate.

Hiring and retaining a marketing director is only one piece of the puzzle. For a program to succeed, a firmwide commitment to marketing is necessary. This article describes how firms can achieve their own business objectives and retain talented marketing professionals. It details six steps that can help ensure a marketing director's productivity.


Strategic planning is a systematic process that defines the firm's identity, what it does best and what specific goals it expects to accomplish in the next year or so. Planning may be done for each practice area, for each industry served or for the whole firm.

It is vital that firms engage in strategic planning before they commit any resources to a marketing effort. Planning should be done before the director is hired, a step that often constitutes a firm's largest allocation of marketing resources.

Strategic planning helps educate partners about what marketing accounting services really means, namely, a combination of research, planning, goal-setting and action steps (or tactics) necessary to accomplish goals.

Strategic planning demands a new way of thinking. Many CPA firms focus their marketing efforts on tactics. They hold seminars, develop brochures and mail newsletters, all to increase new business, but they must support their tactics with an underlying strategy. They must set goals for what the tactics should accomplish numbers of inquiries from prospective clients, for example, or new services performed for existing clients-and plan to monitor their success. Planning helps demonstrate the difference between strategy and tactics.

Strategic planning should involve at least the firm's senior partners and maybe all partners. Marketing consultants can be called in and assigned to gather intelligence, synthesize information, make recommendations and facilitate discussion.

Alternatively, a partner with good communication skills, the respect of peers and a willingness to devote approximately 100 hours (for a small to midsized firm) to the process can facilitate planning.

In doing strategic planning, partners learn to ask-and answer-marketing questions such as

* How are we perceived in the marketplace?

* What advantages do we hold over our competition?

* How should we best communicate these distinctive selling points?

The process helps firms develop a game plan. Partners can then identify opportunities and decide which are best for them. For example, without the benefit of planning, partners might believe that if a competitor offers a tax seminar, they must do so, too, when in reality another marketing tactic might be a better investment of their time and money. Partners also will be less inclined to place nonproductive demands on a marketing director's time once a game plan is formed.

The strategic planning process helps change partners from skeptics about marketing into informed advocates who can collaborate with a marketing professional.


Once a firm knows where it wants to go, it will be able to determine the skills needed in a marketing director. While a large firm-one with 100 or more CPAs-can bring in a senior marketing professional who can coordinate outside public relations firms and consultants to accomplish diverse tasks, a smaller firm rarely has that luxury. It should, however, be able to pinpoint the skills it requires and then proceed to hire the professional whose strengths match its greatest need.

A marketing director can assume many roles within a firm. It is essential the partnership define what it wants from the professional before recruitment begins. Is the firm focusing on increasing its visibility? If so, a marketing director with PR experience is best. Does the firm want to develop an aggressive sales program that involves calling on existing and potential clients? In that case, someone with a strong sales background is called for. Does the partnership need strong direction? A seasoned, senior marketing professional should be hired. If the firm already has a defined program, it will need someone good at coordination.

CPA firm partners face disappointment if they believe a marketing professional can personally provide everything from direction in strategic planning to keying information into a database. No marketing director can take on every role.

The job description should specify education and professional requirements, interpersonal skills, primary responsibilities, to whom the person reports and salary range. Depending on skills required and geographic location, salaries for in-house marketing directors generally range from $30,000 to $70,000.


The biggest mistake a CPA firm can make is to hire a marketing director and give him or her responsibility without authority. This is always a recipe for disaster.

The firm should make a decision about the marketing director's authority when the j ob is created. The position can carry direct or indirect authority, regardless of whether the marketing director selected is senior or junior level.

A senior-level marketing director should sit on the management committee and be allowed to review all financial data. A coordinator-level person can report to a powerful partner who can go to bat for the marketing director when needed. Regardless of his or her level, the marketing director must have the clear support of the managing partner and members of the executive committee. A marketing program's success will reflect the amount of respect and authority given the person running it.


The marketing director position falls outside the traditional model for accounting professionals. Even if the director is given authority, he or she often remains isolated in the organization and lacks peers. Regular feedback is important for all managers, but it becomes essential in this job.

Scheduled meetings should be held weekly, whether the position reports to the managing partner or the partner in charge of business development. Performance reviews should be given every quarter for the first year and twice yearly thereafter. If the reviews are to be meaningful, the director's supervisor must determine how to measure and evaluate the marketer's performance. This can be a challenging task for partners not trained in this area. It's important to remember that marketing expertise isn't essential to providing consistent and clear supervision. Once performance objectives are established, discussions should focus on progress made and obstacles to be tackled.


Firms should allow an initial orientation period for a new director. This professional may have worked in another industry or profession and need time to learn how to apply his or her skills to the accounting profession. Even someone experienced in CPA firm marketing must become familiar with the firm and its strengths. Someone should be assigned to give the new director an overview of the profession, the firm and its clients. Partners should ask all firm members to cooperate with the marketer and to take time to answer questions.

It's also important to remember that marketing directors aren't hired to market firms but to help firms market themselves. The whole firm must be reoriented toward marketing. The marketing director can lead the way, acting as cheerleader or general, depending on the role the firm assigns him or her. However, every cheerleader needs a team and every general, an army. The marketing director can be effective only when the firm is willing to change.

Firms have to ask some tough questions about their reasons for hiring a marketer. Some firms create this position to avoid grappling with difficult issues, such as providing compensation to reward business development, training partners in professional selling skills or requiring their participation in marketing campaigns. No person, regardless of qualifications and competence, can carry an entire firm.


Two types of investment are necessary if the marketing director and marketing itself are to succeed in a CPA firm. One is an investment of time, a willingness to allow a realistic gestation period before marketing programs produce results. The other is a financial investment, a commitment of adequate resources to fund marketing personnel and outside talent.

The first investment should be anticipated in the strategic plan. Objectives should be given realistic time frames. Even though people understand that nothing happens overnight, it is easy to lose heart halfway through a campaign.

The second investment begins with annual development of a marketing budget. This can be done by the managing partner before hiring the marketing director and later by the director.

Just as the marketing director should be given more supervisory feedback to compensate for professional isolation, so should he or she receive additional financial incentives to compensate for a nonequity position. One idea is to offer bonuses if agreed-on targets and deadlines are hit. As an alternative, marketing directors who bring considerable talent to their firms could be made nonequity partners.

Partners often mistakenly believe that once the marketer is hired, no other professionals will be needed to assist the firm in media relations, marketing brochures, proposals, sales training or strategic planning. Firms should be prepared to provide the resources necessary for the marketing director to bring in outside consultants as needed to accomplish specific tasks. The director also will need to use the firm's administrative personnel and-depending on the scope of the firm's goals-may need to build a marketing staff as well.


In-house marketing directors can provide insight, experience and direction. To make the most of their investments in marketing professionals, CPAs should consider in advance what they want from a marketing director and what resources they are ready to commit to enable him or her to accomplish stated goals. Firms then must create environments that allow the director and other firm members to succeed in business development and image enhancement.

* IF CPAs ARE TO ENJOY the benefits of in-house, professional marketing expertise, they must set specific marketing goals. It's also important they consider how to integrate nonequity professionals into their firms. To accomplish these steps, firms should engage in strategic planning before committing any resources to the marketing effort.

* A CLEAR JOB DESCRIPTION for the new director is one product of strategic planning. It should specify educational and professional requirements, interpersonal skills, primary responsibilities, to whom the person reports and salary range. Firms can choose directors whose skills match their greatest need.

* THE MARKETING DIRECTOR should be given the authority necessary to accomplish the firm's marketing goals. He or she also will need thoughtful supervision and guidance from a supervisor committed to the marketing effort.

* IT'S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER that marketing directors aren't hired to market firms but to help firms market themselves. Finn members should not underestimate the importance of their own efforts. Marketing directors should be allowed an orientation period to learn about the firm and its strengths.

* MARKETING REQUIRES investments of time and money. Campaigns should be given a chance to work and marketing professionals should be offered financial rewards for goals achieved since they will not receive an equity stake in the firm.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Hamberg, Nina
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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