While the number of conferences focused on the basics of accounting marketing has grown over the past several years, there were literally none devoted to the critical issues faced by senior-level marketers — until now.In late February, the Association for Accounting Marketing staged its inaugural Executive Leadership Conference in an effort to help provide those at the senior level with strategies to create engaging programs and boost revenue at their respective firms.

Roughly 90 people convened here for the two-day event, which featured panels and workshops to help attendees craft and enhance their marketing plans for 2008 and beyond.

“We were looking for ways to keep more seasoned, tenured marketers involved,” explained Granville Loar, the executive director of the Kansas City, Mo.-based AAM, who revealed that discussions focused on offering a senior leadership conference had begun as early as 2003. “We found that, while we weren’t necessarily losing senior members, we weren’t meeting their needs and bringing value to them. We are looking for a way to meet those needs.”

The result was the recent confab, which offered attendees such things as insider tips from an advertising guru on how the “creative process applies to everything,” a panel on how to work successfully with “Generation Me,” and how to bring the art and science of business intelligence into CPA marketing, among others.

CMOS AS DECISION-MAKERS

“You have to be more than experts in marketing, you have to be experts in our profession,” said Thomas Marino, chief executive officer at J.H. Cohn LLP, a Northeast regional accounting firm with headquarters in Roseland, N.J., and a member of the Generation Me panel.

That session explored issues surrounding the role of the chief marketing officer as a strategic decision-maker within firms of various sizes.

Others on the panel included David Deeter, managing partner at Atlanta-based Frazier & Deeter; James Mattie, national assurance leader of the private company services practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers; and Ed Nusbaum, chief executive of Grant Thornton LLP.

In addition to strategies on how marketers can break the glass ceiling, all agreed that it was important that marketing become a professional designation within firms, as opposed to being labeled an administrative post.

“At our organization, marketing is at the senior level,” Nusbaum said. “I think in today’s world, it’s much tougher for a single individual to be successful on their own, and it takes a team to be successful in a competitive marketplace. Marketing needs to be a part of that. I don’t know how you can be effective any other way.”

Thalia Zeitlin, a principal and chief marketing officer at Berdon LLP, and Howard Wolosky, editor-in-chief of Accounting Today’s sister publication Practical Accountant, served as co-moderators.

PARTNER TRACK

Another session offered attendees first-person accounts of marketers who eventually made partner.

Marc Busny, chief marketing officer and director at Tofias PC in Cambridge, Mass., moderated a discussion with Lori Colvin, chief marketing officer and a partner at Armanino McKenna LLP, who shared the story of her journey at the San Ramon, Calif.-based firm to make partner.

Named “Marketer of the Year” by AAM in 2006, Colvin talked about her firm’s growth, the reaction the firm partners had to a traditionally administrative position reaching the partner rank, and how becoming partner changed her mindset. “I do feel different,” she said, adding that she’s more involved in strategic planning. “I feel more invested. I feel more ownership. I worry more. It makes me think about the future more.”

AAM president Neil Fauerbach, who also serves as director of business development and marketing at Smith & Gesteland in Madison, Wis., echoed the fact that the conference’s programming focus intentionally evolved beyond “Marketing 101” to address upper-echelon marketing issues, as well as centering on the overriding importance of networking: “Going to dinner and talking about your challenges, [such as] ‘How did you make partner?’ It’s making friends and going back and connecting with them again and again,” he said.

As for the participants, many came to get pointers on how to raise the “value perception” of their work within their firms.

“I think it’s a challenge to get buy-in from the partners because they’re so busy,” said Nancy Fox, president of Fox Coaching Associates, a business development consultancy. “I’m not sure there’s a clear methodology between partners and marketers, but they know they need marketing.”

Adam Wolf, director of marketing and business development at CPA and business advisory firm Grassi & Co. in Lake Success, N.Y., said that he appreciated the opportunity to attend a conference directed at those at his senior level. “The best thing is to spend time with peers, hear what’s working and not working and [the] challenges,” he said. “Sometimes it can be as simple as hearing feedback.”

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