St. Louis-based firm Anders Minkler & Diehl LLP bolstered its Sports, Arts and Entertainment Group when it decided to turn its partnership with Barnes Sports Group, a Festus, Mo.-based management firm, into something a little more permanent.
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At the start, Douglas Mueller, a tax partner at AMD and director in the firm's SAE Group, had doubts when Barnes Sports Group's founder Michael Barnes reached out to him through a social media networking site.
Barnes had a client who really needed a CPA. He asked friends for referrals and then he logged on to LinkedIn, where Mueller's name and AMD popped up in his search. "For me, LinkedIn and the Web served as the initial vetting," Barnes said. "I wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to waste Doug's time and that Doug wasn't going to waste mine."
After a few meetings, Mueller's initial skepticism lifted. As the two groups started to work together, they realized that they could proactively cross-sell their services. "His clients still needed our services and our clients still needed his services. It was almost a perfect complementary match," Mueller explained.
As part of its tax practice, AMD has been advising Major League Baseball and National Football League athletes and coaches, as well as musical entertainers and authors, on tax, cash flow and financial planning for decades. Barnes Sports Group has a similar pool of clients and has been assisting them with their marketing strategies since 1996. Barnes primarly focuses on helping clients with licensing, product endorsements and public appearances.
Most of the clients that Barnes works with are at different stages in their careers. Some are venturing into philanthropic endeavors, a path many athletes and entertainers take later on in their careers, while others are still climbing the ladder and branching out to other opportunities around the world. "The developments they have to go through in their careers sometimes outgrow the initial advisor that might be serving them," said Barnes. "The professionalization of the services that I can offer at AMD is a great benefit for our clients."
AMD's SAE Group and Barnes Sports Group kicked off their partnership last year. About six months in, both sides agreed that it would be a good idea to operate under one roof and for Barnes to join the firm as an employee. In August 2012, the two made it official and agreed to merge.
"When Doug initially brought it up to me, we thought it had great possibilities," said Lorri Rippelmeyer, a tax principal at AMD and a director in the SAE Group. "It wasn't a hard sell for me at all. After I met Michael a few times, it just seemed and felt like it was going to be a natural fit that can benefit everybody."
As a firm, AMD offers tax planning and compliance, family office services, and family wealth and estate planning, as well as audit advisory, forensic and valuation services, and QuickBooks consulting. In addition to sports, arts and entertainment, the firm specializes in construction and the real estate industry, distribution and manufacturing, professional services, nonprofits, family businesses, and health care. It also includes AMD Financial Services, which it recently renamed Claris Advisors, and Inflexion, a transaction advisory group that specializes in M&A.
Rippelmeyer describes the firm as a one-stop shop, especially since Barnes joined the SAE Group. "To be able to have Michael provide that additional layer of service is a huge plus. It's so much more than just a tax accounting firm. It just provides our clients with a better consulting opportunity in the different facets of their careers," she said.
Actually, the firm doesn't like to be referred to as a one-stop shop, but Mueller said that there really is no other way to describe it: "It becomes such an easy working team for the clients because we don't have to try to contact somebody else or get information somewhere else. The clients have a team approach all inside one firm working on most of their business matters."
For the most part, clients have been "very receptive" since AMD merged in Barnes Sports Group. "Most of our clients, when they get started in their professional careers, turn to those who handle their mom and dad's taxes. Half the time they aren't even accountants, they are bookkeepers," Barnes explained. "For us, it's trying to make the client understand that for where they are headed, whether its multi-state tax returns, international or domestic royalties, you need a firm that can provide all of those services so we are not constantly chasing our tail." He added that the one-stop shop description really is appealing.
CONNECTING WITH CLIENTS
Most people assume that AMD's SAE Group only represents clients in St. Louis and the surrounding area, but it actually represents artists, bestselling authors, professional athletes, entertainers, and Hall of Fame and Olympic athletes who live all over the world, including Alaska, Los Angeles, New York City and Italy.
One would think that the group would have difficulties catering to clients across the globe. Barnes, who has been in the SAE business for nearly 20 years, said that the evolution of technology makes staying connected easier. "The only thing that's changed for me is that the younger clientele text, middle-aged clients e-mail and the older clients put in a phone call," said Barnes, adding that he doesn't even send faxes anymore.
"Electronic communication makes it easy to deal with these clients no matter where they are. They just want you to be flexible," Rippelmeyer noted.
The firm's SAE team is more than flexible, especially when it comes to building its clientele. Both Mueller and Rippelmeyer went straight to the field during spring training in 2011. "It does involve getting out of the office and spending the time where they are and where they may be. And it also means learning what their needs and communication needs are," said Mueller.
Going forward, the SAE Group will try to attract different types of clients. Part of the group's growth plan is to find a way to get introduced to and begin to work with more people in the entertainment field, major college coaches, athletic directors and front-office executives in major league sports. "I think that is a real growth area for us to expand our services beyond the athletes themselves," said Mueller.
Although the group already represents a solid group of entertainers, Barnes said that the plan is to attain clients whose careers are going through a transition. For example, athletes who are trading in their gear to sit behind the anchor desk as a broadcaster, or, on the literature front, authors who are ready to turn their book into a screenplay. "We see that as a natural fit in expanding our reach on the entertainment side," said Barnes.
With its growth strategy in place, AMD also intends to increase the staff in the trendy SAE Group, but Mueller said that it's a difficult task. "Internally, we actually had several people approach us to join the group, and it's more than we need," he noted. "Our main problem is that we want to make sure we add at the right pace and we want to make sure that we are fair to the rest of the firm."
Pairing a CPA firm with a marketing firm may be unconventional, but Mueller said that it's time for accounting professionals to think outside of the box.
For firms that may be playing around with the idea of following in AMD's footsteps, Mueller said they should start with a little bit of skepticism, as he did. "Accounting firms are generally conservative by nature," he said, and advised that firms shouldn't lose that filter. "But I think firms are going to need to consider different niches, different industries and different growth opportunities in the future."
Rippelmeyer agrees that CPA firms should keep their guard up, but that they should also be open to the possibilities of what's out there: "Bringing in people that are not the traditional CPAs can really enhance the niche and make it better and much more successful."