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Working with the media.

Jill R. Lock, marketing director of Simon, Master & Sidlow, 2002 West 14 Street, Wilmington, Delaware 19806, describes the benefits for firms that understand the press's needs.

Developing and reinforcing media contacts are important components of any CPA firm's marketing program. These contacts can increase awareness of the firm and its capabilities. When a CPA publishes an article or is quoted in a newspaper, it lends considerable credibility to the firm and establishes its expertise.

There are key steps to develop, reinforce and maximize media relations. Just as the press asks who, what, where, when, why and how, so too must CPAs when dealing with the media.

WHO: DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIPS

The firm member in charge of media relations must determine whom at a newspaper, radio, television station, etc., is the primary contact person. This may be a newspaper business editor or the program director of a radio or television station. After obtaining the contact's name, exact title and address, the firm should send him or her an introductory letter with a press kit that includes a firm brochure, newsletter, reprints of articles that highlight the firm's expertise, a list of firm members with their areas of expertise and a brief summary of their experience and the person to be contacted for public relations purposes. The cover letter should describe what's in the press kit and should be signed by the firm contact person.

About a week after this information is mailed, the contact person should call the media contact, ask if he or she received the kit and offer to meet to discuss the contents. The meeting is intended to establish a personal relationship and to find out what issues the contact covers and which other reporters cover business and financial issues. The media contact should be assured the firm is available to provide information on business or financial issues and told about firm members' areas of expertise and then added to the firm's mailing list.

WHAT: NEWSWORTHINESS

Certain events and issues deserve publicity. These include a firm's anniversary, a new office opening, new services or personnel, promotions, awards received, election of firm members to business or professional associations, seminars offered, surveys compiled, etc. CPA firms should prepare press releases on these events to be included in the local paper's personnel or business sections.

It's possible for CPAs to write articles on myriad financial topics. The public is always interested in tax developments, changes to benefit plans, insights into state or federal tax legislation, business valuation issues, how to survive an Internal Revenue Service audit, problems in family owned businesses, how to develop a business plan, etc. Once a firn member has formulated an idea, he or she should discuss it with the media contact before writing the article to ensure it would be considered newsworthy.

WHERE: PROPER TARGETING

To know what is appropriate for different media sources, CPAs should become familiar with the topics they cover and their target audiences. Stories can be geared for general business publications, the business section of the daily newspaper or industry and association newsletters. To find out the audience profile, CPAs can ask the editor or request the publication's or program's media kit. The media kit is similar to a press kit, but it also includes an audience profile, editorial philosophy, circulation information, advertising rates and special topical issue dates, all of which can help CPAs target needed stories.

Article deadlines always must be met because the media depend on receiving articles and reserve space accordingly. However, an article submitted on time may not be printed when originally scheduled if a more newsworthy event develops. Scheduling is the press's prerogative--not the author's.

A story will not always appear the way it was originally written. A reporter's obligation above all is to the readers, which means he or she must find all the facts and present an informed view. A reporter's approach to the story cannot be controlled. Therefore, in case the reporter does decide to change the article, the firm contact person should always be accessible to ensure technical accuracy is maintained.

Once a story is printed, it can be recycled with reprints inserted in seminar packets, proposals and firm newsletters. For example, members of our firm wrote a series of articles for the construction industry and we distributed the reprints of the articles at construction industry seminars and gave them to prospective construction clients.

Reprints left in the firm's reception area make for good reading material. In addition, when CPAs are interested in writing for other publications, reprints demonstrate their writing ability.

WHEN: REINFORCING CONTACTS

To maintain a positive relationship with the media, CPAs should be candid and cooperative; provide interesting, timely article ideas; and keep medialist sup-to-date. It's a bad idea to alienate a contact by insisting that a story be used, complaining about its treatment if it is used or trying to suppress a story.

Practitioners should be proactive and seek opportunities for media interviews. When a new local tax law was in the works, our firm prepared a press release interpreting the law and then called our media contact for feedback. As a result of our efforts, members of our firm were asked to write a major by-lined article for the local newspaper.

CPAs also can offer timely and pertinent story ideas to media contacts. The practitioner or the marketing director should send the media contact a thank-you letter after a firm member's article is published or when a member is quoted in print or appears on a program.

When the press calls, practitioners should remember to avoid technical jargon. Reporters tend to return repeatedly to news sources they can easily understand and ones that do not waste their time on unrelated details. The reporter should be told how a firm member should be identified by name, title, firm name, firm location, etc.

WHY: BENEFITS TO THE FIRM

Being published or quoted regularly enhances a firm's credibility not only with clients and prospects but also with other media contacts. For example, our firm wrote an article about the Internal Revenue Service crackdown on independent contractor classification. After a financial talk show host read the article, a firm member was invited to appear on his show to discuss the topic.

HOW: WRITING THE RELEASE OR ARTICLE

There are basic rules for preparing a press release. The upper left-hand corner of the first page should contain the release date, the contact person, the firm's name and phone number and a release summary. The release should be brief and to the point. It must be typed double-spaced and should end with either "-30-" or three asterisks centered on the page. (This is the proper way to show the release has ended.)

The first paragraph should offer more detail on the summary statement. The opening paragraph should succinctly convey the most important information, while succeeding paragraphs should expand on the main points. Instead of using adjectives to describe an event, it's better to stick to the facts. For example, rather than saying, "The seminar was very successful," the release could say, "Over 100 people attended the seminar."

While there is no specific format for written articles, they also must be typed and double-spaced and should include the title, author's name and a short biography. Technical articles should be written in simple terms and should contain brief explanations where appropriate. It's best to use short, punchy sentences with active verbs. CPAs should consult editors about article length requirements.

GOOD MEDIA RELATIONS

The media rely on expert support to lend credibility and authority to articles on business and personal finance. Reporters and editors are extremely approachable if CPAs have the know-how, the patience and the professionalism to work with them. These are worthwhile qualities to develop because media attention boosts firm morale while conveying the firm's message to a wide audience.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* DEVELOPING MEDIA

contacts is an important component of any CPA firm's marketing program.

* THE FIRM SHOULD seek contacts at various media outlets and offer to provide insights for news stories or write articles.

* ARTICLE REPRINTS ARE valuable marketing tools that reinforce a firm's credibility and demonstrate expertise.

* TO MAINTAIN GOOD relationships with the media, CPAs should be candid and cooperative; provide interesting, timely article ideas; and keep media lists up-to-date.

* CPAs SHOULD AVOID technical jargon. Reporters tend to rely on sources they can easily understand and ones that do not waste their time on unrelated details.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:accounting firms
Author:Lock, Jill R.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:1403
Previous Article:Accounting for foreclosed assets.
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