The Association for Accounting Marketing and Hinge Research Institute have released a study that examines overall marketing spending at accounting firms, including compensation for marketing staff, the top five spending categories, and detailed budget breakdowns by firm size and market location.

The 2014 Accounting Marketing Budget Benchmark Study assesses marketing spending and organic growth within accounting firms. Participants in the survey represent a wide range of accounting firms across the U.S., with budgets ranging from under $5 million to more than $114 million. A total of 30 firms completed the study.

A key aspect of the study highlights the marketing strategies most widely used and successful for high-growth firms. A special section showcases such information to help marketing professionals prioritize their tactics within their strategy more effectively.  Included in the report is a budget worksheet to establish a basis for comparison to industry benchmarks.

“AAM members want to understand how budgets are developed industry-wide, and how their firm's planning and process measures up against successful growth strategies,” said AAM CEO Jayla Boire in a statement. “There are data points in the study that are instrumental for marketing, growth and business development initiatives—not just for marketers but firm leadership industry-wide. It’s a wealth of information for assessment and planning, and we were thrilled to partner with the highly-respected research team at Hinge.”

The study indicated that overall marketing spending (including compensation for the marketing department) averaged 2.19 percent of firm revenue. On average, firms employed one full-time marketing employee for every 65 employees. Excluding marketing staff salaries, the top five spending categories were advertising, sponsorships, individual partner business development set-asides, non-educational firm events, and networking events and trade shows.

“We were very intrigued by what we heard from our participants,” said Hinge managing partner Lee Frederiksen. “High-growth firms showed consistent patterns in how they are managing their marketing. For companies looking to stay competitive and learn from their industry peers, these findings are extremely telling.”

The study contrasted high-growth firms (the fastest-growing 20 percent) with low-growth firms (the slowest-growing 20 percent). High-growth firms showed an average organic growth rate of 23.6 percent, while low-growth firms shrunk by an average of -3.7 percent.

High-growth firms had a higher ratio of marketing staff (one for every 48 employees) than did their low-growth counterparts (one for every 64 employees). High-growth firms actually spent less on marketing (1.04 percent of revenue) than did low-growth firms (2.08 percent of revenue). They also spent it quite differently.

High-growth firms spend less on advertising, sponsorships, non-educational firm events, individual partner business development set-asides and public relations. In contrast, they spend much more on marketing materials, content creation, networking, trade shows and Web site and search engine optimization, educational events. The priorities for future spending reflect the differing marketing strategies pursued by high-growth and low-growth firms.

An executive summary of the report is available on the AAM Web site. AAM members can receive the full report for $300, while non-members pay $600. A webinar on the results of the study is scheduled for July 22.

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