Time to Advertise

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Imagine spending $15,000 and making $150,000-that's just what Mark Fantasia did when he advertised his firm's service via a local radio station. "We just wanted name recognition, and we got a whole lot more," says Fantasia, vice president of Fantasia Technologies.

The firm, a Sage Software MAS 90/200/500 and BusinessWorks reseller located in Framingham, Mass., dabbled with radio advertising last year when it participated in Stu Taylor's "On Business" Saturday morning radio show, a call-in program that appears on radio station WBIX 1060 AM in Boston from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. "People would call in and ask technology questions. It let people know who we were," says Fantasia.

This year, the show's host offered Fantasia the opportunity to have two spot ads to run for 20 weeks during the Saturday program. Fantasia created the ads with the assistance of Irvine, Calif.-based Sage Software, and they ran from July through the middle of January. Sage and Fantasia wrote the ads to help emphasize the firm's level of expertise with the MAS product line. "We made sure the message was simple and included a good offer, such as a free consultation. We focused on the expertise of the firm and the value-added service they bring to the table, not just the product offering," says Christine Stewart, channel marketing manager for Sage.

Partner Insights

Advertising Tactics

"Our customers want to reach small businesses and have been asking us for the tools to do so," says Leslie Merson, group product manager of accountant relations for Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit.

"We have begun by providing educational outreach. By giving them practical and tactical information, they can increase revenues," she adds.

One popular tool has been Intuit's white paper "How to Market My Practice and Increase Revenues-Practical Tools and Checklists to Assist You," by Sherri Petro, a marketing strategist and president of San Diego-based VPI Strategies.

The white paper suggest these advertising tactics:

Flyers. Flyers should be solid, simple and clean. Include what, where, when, why, what time, how to get there, and a call to action. It's important not to overwhelm. Pare the words down and give the reader just enough to achieve the call to action.

Brochures. A brochure sends a message of professionalism. It's a business development tool, an educational device, a reminder of services, and a leave-behind.

Presentation folders. If you understand what your potential client might need, you can use the folder as a delivery mechanism. Creating a leave-behind reminds clients how resourceful and service-oriented you are, and including resource information allows you to show them how valuable you can be.

Yellow Pages. According to the Yellow Pages Association, the yellow pages reach 76 percent of American adults in the average month. The average business gets $6 in profit for every $1 invested. Add photography, make it big, and set yourself up as the trusted source in your content.

Print ads. Think about design, frequency, placement, and evaluation. It can be expensive and ineffective if the print strategy looks at less than all four parts.

Radio ads. Taking part in a collaboration with other service providers is the key to using radio. It can be an expensive medium for the single provider. Radio requires professional assistance for design, production, and placement.

Web sites. Before you invest time or money, it's important to think through why you want a Web site. What might it achieve? It can increase credibility, create awareness and make you visible 24/7, allow you to educate and inform, and provide a referral destination to generate leads.

"We've been seeing interest from customers who already have the MAS product, but wanted our expertise. We have CPAs on staff, and a number of the prospects had strictly technology firms implement the software. They want people who not only know the software, but can also help with tax implications and other accounting issues," says Fantasia.

The ads have currently landed the company one MAS 90 deal, one MAS 500 deal, and four support agreements, and the firm is speaking to five more clients regarding support agreements.

Fantasia also advertises via the Web at AccountingSoftware.com, and up until the radio ads has found that to be the most successful form of advertising.

He also feels email blasts are important for constant contact with the customer. "Advertising is important. It's the only way to get your name out there and in front of your customers and prospects," adds Fantasia.

Sage Software encourages partners to be consistent and persistent when it comes to advertising. In turn, Sage provides partners with ad materials for each product line such as a full-page color ad that can be customized with the partner's company information and then downloaded as a PDF, an ad program structured to enable partners to place yellow-page text ads in their local publications, and, as with Fantasia, will help partners when unique needs appear.

Sage measures the forms of advertising that are most successful by the partners' co-op marketing claims. Stewart has found in the last two months that partners consistently ran ads in regional business journals on a weekly or monthly basis.

However, she says, "Many partners put funds toward one big ad, and hope for the best. One ad doesn't work. Companies have to repeat their message many times. We try to steer our partners away from thinking of advertising as the number of leads they might receive. We let them know ads form brand awareness, and are an introduction to the space, but they're not a stand-alone. They have to use them with other marketing tactics."

Many resellers and CPA firms are taking advantage of the opportunities and brand awareness that yellow page ads, print ads, radio ads, and online ads can mean for business.

Chicago-based Grant Thornton has seen public awareness of its firm grow from 5 percent in 2002 to 19 percent in 2005.

"In the last four years, due partially to advertising, the public's awareness of Grant Thornton has increased. It works to have a variety of advertising, because people learn through their ears and their eyes. To get the message across you have to build frequency with several senses," says Edmond Russ, partner, chief marketing and sales officer.

And that's just what the firm has done. It started with print advertising, and moved to spot ads on specific stations. Grant Thornton did so in six markets including Albuquerque, N.M., Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Charlotte, N.C., and Orlando, Fla. From there, the firm switched to network radio, and the network placed the individual commercials on 1, 500 stations. "The only significant difference is the coverage. As you can imagine, 1,500 stations had a far greater impact than six. Broadcast advertising reaches a larger audience, and grabs the attention of people, but you must deliver an interesting message. [In our other advertising,] we try to use visual images," says Russ.

The Grant ads have been very visual. (See related story page 24.) And, they are working.

"We spend a lot of money, and we need to get results. I have partners telling me they are getting responses, and our revenue has increased consistently each year," says Russ. In fact, net revenue for 2005 grew by 29 percent over 2004.

This has been a consistent trend since the firm started its advertising campaign. The first year the firm began aggressively advertising the net revenue increased by 25 percent. "Although it is impossible to tell how much revenue growth is attributable to advertising, the bottom line is people don't do business with people they've never heard of," says Russ.

Variety Works

Big firms such as Grant Thornton aren't the only firms who have had success with a variety of advertising. Mike Swaim, president of Spartanburg, Md.-based SwaimBrown, uses several forms of advertising more so to build brand image and name recognition than to add new customers.

The 35-person firm offers traditional accounting services such as tax and audit, technology consulting focused on Microsoft's Dynamics GP product line, and wealth management services.

Grant Thornton: The Name of the Rose

Grant Thornton's print and television advertising features the image of a bespectacled, bald accountant (an actor).

But the catch is the red rose between his teeth. Grant Thornton wants to get across three messages: the firm has resources in many countries, has a high level of customer service, and the staff loves their jobs. All of Grant Thornton's advertising aims to deliver these messages to its target audience of CFOs. For example, the print advertisement that features the accountant with the rose is accompanied by the following message:

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