Jayne V. Bates is in the home stretch of her one-year term as president of the Association for Accounting Marketing, which will end in July. Bates has served on the association’s board of directors since January 2001.Herself a CPA, Bates is currently the director of marketing for Carter, Belcourt & Atkinson PA CPAs, a firm based in Lakeland and Tampa, Fla. She has been with CBA for nearly 20 years, spending her first eight years with the firm as a professional staff accountant and serving in a marketing capacity during the rest of her tenure. 
Founded in 1989, AAM has worked to address the growing marketing and business development needs of public accounting firms and today more than 650 members located in the United States, Canada, England and Japan. The group will hold its annual conference in early June in Savannah, Ga. (More information is available at www.accountingmarketing.org/conference.asp).

In an exchange with WebCPA, Bates talked about the upcoming conference, changes in AAM’s membership demographics, the evolving role of marketers in accounting firms, and why firm leaders should view marketing as an investment of time, not just an investment of cash.

Can you talk a little about how AAM's membership levels have been doing over the past few years, as well as the demographics of the association’s members?

From 2001 to the present, AAM has experienced an increase in membership of approximately 30 percent. Years ago, membership was made up primarily of firm marketing directors, while today it includes marketing staff, sales professionals and firm management/partners. AAM continues to see steady growth from year to year. Currently, our membership is 77 percent female and 23 percent male, with the bulk of the members in the 25- to 50-year-old range (37 percent of our members are between the ages of 31 and 40).

AAM conducts a biennial "Survey of the CPA Marketing Profession" as a service to its members and as a resource tool for marketing activities nationwide. The survey includes information regarding budgeting, salaries, the effectiveness of marketing tools, job satisfaction, bonuses and benefits, as well as profiles of firms and respondents. The most recent survey results will be released in April.

How’s registration for the June “Unchartered Waters” conference going? I know AAM’s annual conference had record attendance last year.
Registration for the AAM Summit 2007: Unchartered Waters was opened in mid-February, and we are ahead of past registrations by approximately 24 percent [as of late March]. At this rate, we will definitely set attendance records once again.

This year’s summit will be held June 6 to 8, and is shaping up to be the biggest and best AAM has ever offered, with 24 breakout sessions, world-class keynote speakers including Daniel Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind,” and the return of the Managing Partner Power Panel. We’ll also have a panel of Local Marketing Masters to show how different marketing worlds are not as far apart as people might think. [Networking is always a top priority for attendees, and we’ll also be offering] an exhibit hall, receptions and the always-popular AAM-MAA Gala.

For the recent filing season, have you seen firms or practitioners trying to leverage their expertise when it comes to dealing with the last-minute tax changes Congress passed? Or is the focus always on winning clients for the longer term?
I see that most firms who perform tax work are always trying to leverage their expertise with any tax law changes, not just the last-minute changes. It’s a way for the firm to establish its credentials and reinforce credibility as an authority with specialized knowledge of taxes. Since the tax law change in December, my firm has included several articles on the changes in our electronic newsletter that we send out biweekly to clients, prospects and friends of the firm. 

Can you describe how the marketer role is changing within firms?

The marketer role is changing. With the accounting staffing shortage, these days many marketers are assisting with recruitment activities (trade shows, Web sites, blogs, recruitment videos and brochures, etc.) In addition, they may help the HR department with employee retention activities such as games, competitions, staff social activities and more.

As the accounting marketing profession has matured, more firms now encourage their marketers to participate in strategic planning. The marketers regularly attend partner meetings and annual retreats as they provide insight, feedback and suggestions in determining the strategic direction of the firm. Being involved in the strategic planning makes it much more efficient for marketers in the implementation. 

What are the keys to creating a firm-wide marketing culture?

A firm-wide marketing culture must be fully supported by top firm leadership. A plan should be developed with those responsible committed to it 100 percent. Everyone at the firm can play a role in marketing, despite their level in the organization. Roles will depend on the level of experience and the style, desire and personal skills of the individual. Once roles have been defined, they must be communicated to everyone, along with their expectations.  Firm leadership should stress the importance of the entire firm being involved. 

What should every firm consider in laying out its marketing budget for the upcoming year?

Input from firm and team leaders is extremely important when laying out the marketing budget. The leaders need to set their objectives and plan their strategies for the upcoming year so that the costs can be determined. Receiving input from them shows their commitment to the initiatives and greater success.

During the year, the team leaders should look at the proposed ideas and projects and decide if the risks and costs are worth the potential benefits.

In addition, the firm leaders should view marketing as an investment of time, not just an investment of cash. When planning the hourly time budgets of the accounting professionals, a percentage of their non-chargeable time should be allocated to marketing efforts.

What sort of other marketing trends are you seeing in the accounting profession?

The major marketing trend we’ve seen is the increased number of sales professionals in accounting firms. The trend has definitely affected AAM. With the 2006 conference, we added a breakout track for sales and business development. This track was one of the most popular at the conference. This track will again be offered [at this year’s conference]. In addition, one entire issue of AAM’s newsletter, MarkeTrends, was recently devoted to the topic of integrating sales and marketing.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, that AAM is proud of the educational programs that it offers. We have two upcoming events that will be offered over the telephone: 

  • On May 9, at 2 p.m. EDT, AAM will offer a Virtual Learning Series session on firm management. Scott Moore, director of marketing at Dixon Hughes will discuss, “Merger Strategies: What Needs to Occur Before, During and After a Merger Decision.” 
  • Later in May, AAM will offer a “State of the Profession” presentation over the telephone featuring members of AAM’s Advisory Council; James Metzler, vice president of small CPA firm interests with the American Institute of CPAs; and Michael McDowell, principal of McCroy & McDowell LLC.

Information on those sessions and other educational events is posted on AAM’s Web site, at www.accountingmarketing.org, in the “Events & Education” section.

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