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Improving practice visibility.

Many accountants leave the job of promoting their practices and careers to a familiar, informal network known as word-of-mouth. While relying solely on developing a repuation for producing quality work is one of the most time-honored approaches to practice development, it doesn't hurt to give word-of-mouth a little nudge now and then.

Competition for new clients is tougher than ever as accountants compete with each other and other professions to provide similar services. Lawyers and systems consultants, for example, frequently offer some of the same services traditionally provided by accountants. A good practice development plan will enable an accounting professional to cost-effectively and efficiently build awareness of particular capabilities and distinguish himself or herself among key audiences.

Printed Materials

Utilize a simple but distinctive logo and graphic design to give all printed materials consistency and a "family outlook." This projects an image of stability to possible clients. If you specialize in certian disciplines, it may be appropriate to include it as part of your log or stationery.

While the subject matter of your materials may be complex, it is always best to keep the text of brochures and background materials to a minimum while still conveying a sense that your practice is capable of addressing a full range of business problems and including all important marketing messages.

Have professional photographs taken of everyone at your firm who comes in contact with clients. These can be used in the development of brochures or included on one-page biographies. While no one is likely to hire an accountant based on the quality of a photograph, this approach helps personalize the relationship between the practice and the client.

Media Monitoring

One of the best ways to monitor changes, trends or particular concerns in your clients' industries is to read what they read -- their trade publications. Subscribes to the magazines that are devoted to their industries. This is a very important way to identify issues and matters that may affect your clients and, in turn, your relationship with your clients.

If there are industries you have targeted for growth, an ongoing program of monitoring the media covering those industries will reveal opportunities for generating awareness among key prospects.

Publicity

Good publicity programs are more than just trying to get your firm's name in the newspaper at every opportunity. Simply put, a good publicity program provides editors and reporters with solid story topics and includes your firm's professionals as credible sources for comment or possible authors for articles.

While your practice may benefit from the exposure you receive from being quoted in an article or as the author of an article, the publication benefits by profviding a valuable service to its readers in the form of accurate and credible information. The key to a good publicity program is directing your efforts to the publications and media that serve your clients and then studying the media enough to understand what they may need from you and what you can provide.

Good publicity can be the result of media interviews, by-lines articles, informational breifings or een coverage of a speech at a professional conference.

Audio-Visual Presentation

While professional service firms are not expected to entertain prospective clients through glitzy slide and video presentations, they should be able to provide a clear, concise and very professional overview of their capabilities.

The decision of how to present your capabilities is yours, but it may be a mistake to assume that printed materials and personal meetings are adequate to showcase your practice's capabilities. Slide presentations that simply and graphically illustrate such facets of your business as organizational charts, industries served and particular case histories hold attention in meetings. In addition, a prepared slide presentation is particularly useful in general business group presentations such as those sponsored by chambers of commerce and service organizations.

To further illustrate your practice's capabilities, a well-produced video can deliver key messages without requiring personal presentations. This ensures better consistency in the presentation of your practice to large and diverse audiences.

Directory Advertising

According to the Yellow Pages Publishers Association, there are now more than 5,717 Yellow Pages directories published in the United States each year. While the traditional approach of making sure your practice has at least one small listing in one directory may seem to suit your needs, other professionals are increasingly taking a more innovative approach.

Consider larger listings, a larger number of listings under sveral industry headings and insertions in more than one directory. These are options that depend on the size of your practice and the markets you need to reach.

Conferences & Trade Shows

Attendance at trade shows and conferences is a good and cost-effective start, but there are other ways to increase visibility of your practice. Consider participation in panel discussions or as seminar leaders. Determine ways to meet the trade press and media covering the shows or conferences. Sponsor hospitality suites or special recreational outings such as golf or tennis.

The most effective way to use business events as a means to increase visibility is to set priorities in selecting the right events and to make a commitment to reaching that audience. It is better to make an impact at three trade shows and conferences than to get lost in the crowd at 10 events.

Advertising/Underwriting

Advertising ensures that your firms's names and your message are delivered to the audience you want to reach. It is focused and controlled. The underwriting of programming on public broadcasting outlets or cultural events is more understated and helps build a positive image for your firm in the community.

As with other forms of marketing communications, advertising and underwriting programs can be inexpensive or very costly, depending on the type of program you want to create and implement. The size of your practice and your business development needs will determine your ad budget and what type of program you can create.

Direct Marketing

Direct marketing consist of a program to deliver a prepared package of information directly to the client or prospective client, usually through the mail. The contents of the package can range from newsletter or reprints of published articles to brochures and white papers on particular issues. regulatory development or trends.

The key to an effective direct marketing effort is a good list. Many mailing houses sell mailing lists, but it may be worth your while to identify those trade associations that include prospective clients as members. They frequently sell or rent membership lists which can be used in your own marketing program.

Newsletters

Newsletters are very useful to both reader and publisher. A newsletter that contains relevant, thorough and detailed information that helps readers do their jobs better is a valuable service. By three-hole-punching the newsletter, you will increase the likelihood of the recipient holding onto the piece in a reference binder and possibly referring to it in the future. For the publisher, a newsletter is a credible and substantive marketing tool that provides a forum to showcase expertise and capabilities.

Press Releases

Don't overlook the events that happen within your firm that could be newsworthy. Any time you add a new employee, prepare and send a news release to the local newspapers and the employee's hometown newspaper and alumni publications. This may not be front-page news, but over time it has an accurued value to your firm's visibility efforts.

News releases should publicize your firm's addition of new clients, the offering of new capabilities or the winning of civic and professional awards. Some firms regulary conduct client or industry surveys and make the results public through broadly distributed news releases.

Cross-Promotion Efforts

Accountants and lawyers increasingly find themselves competing for the same types of work, but more often they work for a common client. It is in the best interest of professionals from a variety of fields including accounting, law, banking and public relations, to develop mutually beneficial relationships with the interest of practice development.

Accountants who specialize in turnarounds and workouts may find a strong network that includes bankruptcy attorneys to be very important to their practice development efforts.

Professionals who specialize in such disciplines as investor relations, bankruptcy and corporate communications may serve as strong allies in an effort to add value to the business development and client service efforts of both accountants and lawyers.

Community Relations

Community relations is the essence of good public relations. "Doing well by doing good" is a phrase well known in the public relations world, reflecting on the fact that businesses who develop strong reputations in their communities usually reap the benefits.

Accountants who serve on the boards of non-profit organizations serve as ambassadors to the community for their own firms. As they become more visible in the community, so does the firm. Advertisements in cultural and arts programs reflect on your firm's commitment to improving the quality of life in the community. Participation in community fund-raising efforts helps position your firm and its members as concerned for the common good.

Getting Started

To get started, the best approach is the same you would take with any good business plan. Research your firm your clients, your targeted industries and your competition. Establish clear marketing communications objectives that complement your firm's overall business plan. Create a master strategy for communications mission, and put together an action plan that follows a well-defined timetable for implementation and budget. Monitor the results of your program and remain flexible so that adjustments can be made as certain efforts begin to produce results better than others.

Once your marketing communications program starts to gather momentum, you may find your practice receiving word-of-mouth referrals with more frequency.

Tim O'Brien is a senior account executive at the Pittsburgh office of Ketchum Public Relations. With more than 10 years experience in the communications field, he has helped several professional service firms create and implement marketing programs.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National Society of Public Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Debits & Credits; technique for accounting firms to win more clients
Author:O'Brien, Tim
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:1637
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