IMA makes new push to spotlight CMA value during tough economic times

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The Institute of Management Accountants has launched a new promotional campaign to highlight the role of Certified Management Accountants in real-world situations, taking a more serious tone in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic than its previous humorous advertising campaigns.

The campaign aims to demonstrate how accounting and finance professionals who earn a CMA can make a difference for their companies, clients, profession and their own careers.

The IMA developed the multi-channel campaign in partnership with The Gate | New York, an international advertising agency and marketing services company, for the fifth consecutive year. The campaign includes three TV spots that will be running as commercials (including ads appearing nationally on internet-connected TVs, as well as broadcast TV in some of the major media markets), along with websites, social media and through search engine marketing. Two of the commercials aired Monday night during the NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants, and during the NBA playoffs on Tuesday night. The spots will also be running on late-night TV and during news programs.

One spot, called First Day, is about a factory worker who is starting his first day back at work after being laid off. A CMA convinced his company to rehire its workers after doing data analysis to show how it would help the company. He is seen leaving for work early in the morning as his young daughter waves to him from the front window. Another heart-tugging spot called Baby Photos shows an obstetrician taking pictures of a new baby. Her hospital, which was scheduled to close down, stayed open because a CMA did a cost analysis to show why it should remain in business. She posts it next to photos of the hundreds of other babies she has delivered. The third ad, Anniversary, shows a shirt company manufacturer who turned to a CMA who helped streamline his supply chain to save money on making each shirt so he could keep his company running and celebrate a 50-year anniversary.

“We are super excited here at IMA,” said IMA president and CEO Jeff Thomson. “Year 5 of our ad campaign, for continuity and consistency, is in partnership with The Gate. The ad campaign, which is multichannel and multi-geography, is multifaceted. It has moved from tattoos and robots — messages with a little bit of a whimsical, comical view — to more heartwarming and genuine, emphasizing how accounting and finance professionals earning a CMA make a difference in their careers, in their organizations, for society as a whole. That message resonates now more than ever in the face of a global health pandemic and economic lockdowns.”

He thinks the ads strike the right tone for this time. “With these ads, whether it’s a CMA who helped prevent a hospital from closing or helped enable a multi-decade shirt manufacturer to keep operating, these are vignettes that testify to real-life stories of how we make a difference in this profession and CMAs in particular,” said Thomson (pictured). “It’s an awareness campaign. Even in the face of a pandemic, we grew the CMA program. This is all about upskilling and uplifting in some sense, given the circumstances. What better time than now to invest in your education and certification as a differentiator? What better time than now to uplift yourself and upskill yourself? That’s why we changed the tone and messaging around year 5 of our ad campaign to making a difference.”

The target audience for the campaign is young professionals, especially millennials. “They’re confident, they’re ambitious, and they’re achievement oriented,” said Ellen Gurevich, vice president of integrated marketing at the IMA. “They’re not only active on social media, but they’re active in their communities, and I think that they want to find meaning and creativity in their jobs. They look for companies and careers that match their values, and they’re doing work that contributes to their personal growth and how they want to see the world. In making contributions, big and small, they want to be meaningful and have an impact. In this new CMA campaign, we really tried to showcase how CMAs can and really do make a difference in their careers, companies and communities. In these uncertain times, we really want people to be aware of how becoming a CMA can make a real difference.”

The multichannel campaign aims to reach young accountants on the platforms they might be watching regularly. “We’re running on broadcast TV and on connected TVs for younger millennials who are the target audience, who are cutting the cable cord,” said Gurevich. “We’re making sure that we’re putting the commercials where they can see them, on places like YouTube TV, Sling and Roku, regardless of how they’re watching and streaming. We’re also putting digital ads online and on social media. We’re going to be running some CMA stories as well in some of the digital channels. The campaign is highly digital, which matches the way that the audience consumes the media.”

The spots have a more emotional feel than the previous ad campaigns for the CMA, which showed accountants getting CMA tattoos and interacting with human-like robots. “We’ve been working with The Gate for the fifth year, and we’ve gone from tattoos to robots, fun commercials, to a much more serious and meaningful tone, which matches the environment and the needs of the audience right now,” said Gurevich.

The IMA has needed to make adjustments during the pandemic, but it has seen growth in accountants becoming CMAs this year. “We’ve all been impacted in so many ways both professionally and personally from the pandemic,” said Thomson. “Fortunately we have a strong business continuity plan. Our fiscal year ends June 30, and we grew new CMAs in the pipeline 17 percent year over year. We grew total active CMAs by 19 percent year over year. Over five years, we’ve grown new CMA candidates, which is probably our most active leading indicator. Our five-year growth rate is 20 percent. That’s something like 82,000 total CMA candidates. There continues to be interest, and obviously the ad campaign is to spur that awareness and then interest and ultimately pull-through. We think, whether it’s a pandemic or other kind of disruption, managing the balance sheet, managing working capital, those are places where a CMA can make a difference. The growth rate through June 30, which is right in the heart of the pandemic, bears that out.”

The IMA reached a new all-time record of 13,519 CMAs granted in fiscal year 2020, with a 21 percent increase in the U.S. Total active CMAs grew to 43,190, another all-time record for the IMA. Total membership grew 3 percent, achieving yet another all-time record of 144,217 members.

However, there have been some declines as well, perhaps due to the pandemic. New CMA candidates, while growing 17 percent through the first six months, declined 22 percent for the full year. Similarly, exam registrations were up 30 percent through the first six months before declining for the full year by 25 percent. However, total CMA candidates are up 33 percent from June 2018 and now stand at 82,000, compared with 26,000 five years ago. Total active CMAs are up 51 percent from June 2018 and are now at 43,000. More than 15,000 CMA candidates have passed both exams and are now waiting on education or experience to become CMAs.

From a regional perspective, new CMA candidates grew in the Middle East and India by 15 percent, Europe by 32 percent, and the Americas by 13 percent, but that growth was more than offset by a decline of 35 percent in the Asia Pacific and China region.

The CMA ad campaign has been helping drive more interest in the certification. Four years after the campaign launched, the IMA has doubled the run rate of new CMA candidates in the U.S., with increased momentum in the past six months. The ad campaign yielded 28,000 new CMA leads this fiscal year, totaling over 87,000 new CMA leads to date since the beginning of the campaign.

The growth this year may stem in part from accountants who are out of work during the economic downturn and are looking to find a job or advance their careers with a new certification. Or they may have more time since they’re not commuting to pursue their education and can spend time at home gaining new credentials to get a better job.

“The CMA program has been growing anyway, pre COVID-19,” said Thomson. “But whether it’s a global pandemic or economic downturn, it definitely is an opportunity to take stock. We’ve significantly increased our online, on-demand virtual courseware. For example, we made our data analytics certificate program free for quite a period of time during the pandemic, in the spirit of being compassionate and empathetic. But absolutely, it’s easy to get into a different routine if you’re working from home, and many people are eliminating commuting time. What a great opportunity it is to upskill and uplift at the same time, for yourself and for your organization. Ultimately our profession greatly benefits society and the capital markets.”

Like the IMA with its Management Accounting Competency Framework and exams, the American Institute of CPAs has been evolving its certification with a new CPA Evolution initiative and revising the Uniform CPA Exam, in conjunction with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, encouraging more accountants to learn technology skills such as data analytics at a time when even public accounting firms are doing less hiring of CPAs (see story). The pandemic has also forced many companies and firms to cut back on their accounting departments. Hiring of people with graduate-level business degrees like MBAs is expected to decline 60 percent this year, according to a survey by the Association of MBAs and Business Graduates Accociation, while accounting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young are either retrenching or reconsidering their hiring plans for MBAs.

“None of us knows what the new trend line will be with COVID-19,” said Thomson. “Even the pre COVID-19 trend will continue in some way. There has been a clear move to consulting and advisory, technology and data analytics. When you look at the bodies of knowledge that the CMA covers, which includes technology and analytics, we believe it’s absolutely fit for purpose in the new age of digitalization. Some jobs have passed that are more transaction oriented, repetitive and repeatable, especially in audit and the close process. We think we’re at the right part of the long-term wave in terms of what the profession and society needs in terms of more insight, more foresight, more innovation, and we think the CMA body of knowledge is very much fit for purpose, especially in today’s environment.”

He sees the pandemic making this especially true now. “Now more than ever organizations have to do their best to invest in the future,” said Thomson. “At best we are a mission-oriented organization. The pandemic, make no mistake about it, has impacted the IMA and its people, just as it probably has nearly every person in the world. But it’s absolutely important that we invest in the future of our great profession. The profession makes a difference, and we individually and as CMAs make a difference. Investing in the future is tough, especially when you have to pay the bills and you’re dealing with furloughs and things like that. But this is ‘pay it forward’ in some sense for the IMA to continue to invest in not just the future of the CMA program, but we think it’s definitely benefiting society and the profession at large.”

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IMA Certified Management Accountants Accounting education Certifications and licensing Coronavirus Marketing Jeff Thomson
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