[IMGCAP(1)]The C-Suite marketing chief isn’t a brand new concept, but it is one that’s rapidly gaining popularity among the bigger, more progressive firms I see.

This isn’t one of those flash-in-the-pan fashions that comes and goes without making an impact; it’s a long-overdue move almost guaranteed to help business flow more smoothly and promote firm growth in the process.

True, elevating the head of the marketing branch of your firm to a C-level position isn’t a magic bullet that will defeat all threats. If it’s an empty title lacking any real power, nothing will change. But by integrating marketing at the highest levels of the firm hierarchy, you will maximize its considerable strength and achieve the top-down buy-in you need to harness the full potential of your marketing options.

Since Bates v. State Bar of Arizona in 1977, providers of professional services have been free to market and promote their firms in all the usual ways, but remnants of that pre-Bates reticence still exist. A few readers will recall a time before the Bates decision. In those days, providers of professional services were forbidden to promote themselves or their services in any way.

Even in firms where no one can remember that far back, there is sometimes a palpable resistance to marketing—an inherited perception that ladies and gentlemen do not engage in unseemly self-promotion.

The assumption is something like: “Quality people will whisper the name of suitable providers to others like them. It would be tacky to discuss these things publicly.” And while that’s adorably quaint, in an elitist way, it’s not going to stand up to reality of the modern marketplace. It’s time to kill off the lingering hesitation and recognize marketing’s integral, guiding, success-controlling role in modern accounting firms.

Yep, that’s putting it strongly and claiming an awful lot for marketing, but before you dismiss it entirely, ask yourself this question: As a CPA, would you let any of your clients attempt to muddle through without detailed, comprehensive growth strategies that are fully integrated into the basic business plan? Of course not! Every business demands a well thought out marketing plan.

It’s much easier to see the wisdom of the C-Suite marketing chief once firm leaders have recognized the fact that marketing drives practice growth more than any other factor. Placing a Chief Growth Officer, whether internal or outsourced, among the top layer of firm decision-makers helps emphasize how critical the marketing function is to your firm.

Doing so also ensures a seat at the decision-making table for marketing. Keeping the marketing function at a lower level is, in effect, forcing this important element to function as an adjunct afterthought, the unloved (and underfunded) red-headed stepchild, which automatically lessens its potential for helping the firm advance.

The Bates decision occurred decades before some of today’s firm leaders were even in college or thinking about careers. It’s high time that every professional services firm joined the ranks of those who recognize marketing as a powerful and respectable pursuit for every kind of business.

Professional services providers are highly educated consultants. They are ladies and gentlemen, one hopes. But they are also, in the end, business people. As such, they are well advised to prioritize the purely business aspects of running a successful firm, and that means marketing.

Sarah Warlick is content director of bbr marketing.

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