Twitter tips and much more from the marketing association's annual Marketingpalooza

The year was 1989. "Look Away" by Chicago was Billboard's Song of the Year. The World Series, known as the "Battle of the Bay," was rocked by an earthquake before the Oakland Athletics swept the series. And the Association for Accounting Marketing was born.

Twenty years later, AAM celebrated its anniversary with more than 400 attendees at Marketingpalooza in the Live Music Capital of the World - Austin, Texas.

The progress that has been made since its inception and the first meeting in Phoenix is well beyond what its founders could have ever imagined. While the Internet was unknown in 1989, this year's conference heavily focused on social media. Those attending the conference and those still in their offices could follow the sessions on Twitter using the hash tag (a method of organizing "tweets" and making them more searchable) #AAMAustin. Members who were tweeting live from the conference even scheduled a "Tweetup" during one of the receptions to connect with each other face to face.

Many attendees began the conference uncertain about whether or not social media was a strategy that their firm should embrace. The message of keynote speaker Scott Klososky, a former chief executive of three start-up companies, was very clear: Social media is here to stay and it's "a fundamental shift in the way we communicate."

Pointing out that social networking sites are now officially more popular than porn sites, Klososky said, "If there is one thing that you hear today, it is that you must create social media standards for your firm."

Klososky also demonstrated the power of social media by asking the audience to text-message their questions using Wifitti, a free service that publishes real-time messages to large audiences. Rather than the typical Q&A via microphone, attendees sent their questions via cell phone to a number and the questions were displayed on large screens for everyone to see. Questions were anonymous, and instead of real names, Wifitti automatically assigned unique names such as "EggplantToad."

ALL GROWN UP NOW

On a more serious note, it was evident that the attendees have matured from lower-level firm staff members to leaders in the profession. Many AAM members now hold the title chief growth officer and the coveted position of equity partner.

Further evidence of the evolution of accounting marketing came in the presence of American Institute of CPAs president and chief executive Barry Melancon, who addressed a variety of industry issues, including the controversial IRC Section 7216, a provision designed to safeguard client information and a thorn in the sides of many marketers. Melancon said that the way that 7216 was written was "bizarrely bad" and that the AICPA is working with the IRS to soften the regulation. If the institute is unsuccessful with the IRS, it will seek legislative changes.

Melancon also pointed out that client retention is the No. 1 issue facing firms today. The audience agreed and many discussions regarding lead generation and enhancing value to current clients permeated the roundtable and "hallway" discussions.

Kelly McDonald from Dallas-based McDonald Marketing used her session, "How to Connect with People Who Are Not Like You," to share some insight into accounting marketing. As one of the judges of AAM's Marketing Achievement Awards, McDonald had the opportunity to closely evaluate more than 200 marketing initiatives from member firms.

Her candid remarks were a wake-up call to many in the room. She observed a "sea of sameness" in the award submissions and said that firms need to focus on FAB: features, attributes and benefits. McDonald encouraged firms to look both internally and externally as to how they can differentiate themselves in the market place. The days of stock photographs and pictures of a firm's headquarters building are over.

Scott Moore, director of marketing and business development at Dixon Hughes in Greenville, S.C., was honored as the 2009 Marketer of the Year. One of the partners who nominated Moore noted his ability to get the job done while maintaining a strong work/life balance. His talents were demonstrated when his firm received a number of marketing achievement awards, including special recognition in a new category created by the judges called "Campaign Excellence."

MARKETING IN TOUGH TIMES

Economic conditions were certainly on the minds of many at Marketingpalooza. Although attendance was down by more than 25 percent from last year, many members, determined to participate, paid for their own expenses just so that they could attend.

The closing session, however, "Come Out On Top - How to Rise in a Downturn," demonstrated that all hope should not be lost. Panelists included Karen Love from PKF Texas, Rike Harrison from Wipfli, Katie Tolin from Rea & Associates, and Stuart Baum from Blackman Kallick. All four marketers have achieved success over the last 12 months by turning challenging times into real growth potential. "This is the time to be bold," Love said. "Winners and losers are created in times like these."

Baum has banned the word "economy" in his firm and will not allow it to be an excuse for lost opportunities.

Harrison discussed value: "Value that you don't communicate is not a value to your clients/prospects."

Tolin emphasized the role of marketing: "Partners won't lead the drive to new opportunities - it must come from the marketing department." As an example, she arranged an internal growth summit to help stimulate ideas for business development at Rea & Associates. Using a concept similar to speed dating, Rea's "speed lead" session uncovered 886 potential opportunities for the firm in just a few hours.

All of the panelists agreed that the economy was providing opportunities for growth and should not be considered a hindrance and should not be an excuse. These are the times that CPAs should be developing tools to help their clients survive and emerge stronger and better.

That news certainly gave members something to celebrate. And celebrate they did. With a 1980s-themed dance party to honor the 20th anniversary, attendees left with these thoughts: "Things Can Only Get Better," they can succeed "Against All Odds," their clients are asking "What About Me?" and most important ... being an accounting firm marketer, "What a Feeling!"

Jessica Levin, CMP, is the manager of communications and member services for Moore Stephens North America, an international association of accounting and consulting firms. She is a former CPA firm marketing director and has been a member of AAM since 2003.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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