If there’s one thing I learned from attending the Association for Accounting Marketing Summit this year, it’s that marketers don’t have an easy job.

And that the AAM-MAAs, the association’s Marketing Achievement Awards — despite their focus on accounting marketing projects — are really like the Oscars.

From navigating firm politics, to getting the attention of partners, to making sure their budgets aren’t cut, those in marketing are stirring many pots at once, and some are even on stoves they don’t own.

But I also learned another thing from attending this event — that the process of marketing firms is becoming more sophisticated. That business development isn’t just a buzz word and that marketing, sales and business development people all have to work together — cohesively — to get any amount of long-lasting success. Social media is changing the game and branding is becoming increasingly important.

The summit was great for me, aside from the lack of a consistent Internet connection in the conference halls and a cash bar at all the receptions (why, oh why?). I had the opportunity to meet a lot of faces who I knew from e-mail and phone conversations. I got the opportunity to sit in on sessions and listen to the challenges many marketers in accounting firms face. And I overheard many people network and find each other to commiserate over hardships and share their successes.

Sally Glick, one of the chairs in charge of the event (Jennifer Johnson and Suzanne Verity were her partners), said she loves the camaraderie the conference offers. And it’s not just her.

What I heard over and over again is that many attendees (there were about 400) were happy to be there to connect with other marketers because they were the only ones in their firms doing what they do. It was a welcome relief for many to just be in the same room as someone who was asking, “How do I get my partner to write a bio that is a month overdue so I can move forward with this project already?”

“We’re all in the same boat,” said Kimberly Alarcon, marketing coordinator at Margolin, Winer & Evens LLP in Garden City, N.Y. “It’s nice to know we’re all going through the same issues.” Her biggest challenge is getting people onboard with networking and marketing projects, she added. “Sometimes they think we are there to plan parties all day. We are there to work with them and help them grow.”

The sessions that I attended were good. Only one facilitator who spoke on the power of persuasion came off as self-important to me — but those who were in the profession offered choice nuggets of valuable information.

Sessions focused on client retention, business development strategies, boosting your online brand, and marketing audits, to name a few. The panel luncheons were strong and engaging (and it’s hard to get people to listen when they’re busy passing the bread basket), and offered the perspective of some heavy hitters in the profession. And this was the first year that the summit offered an executive track for those in the business of accounting marketing for more than 10 years. There were rookie, intermediate and executive tracks.

I enjoyed some tapas and cocktails with the folks from PDI Global and some of their friends at Co Co Sala, a chocolate bar and boutique in Washington, D.C. As I looked around the table at the multigenerational faces, listening to stories and introductions, I realized this is the future of accounting — and it looks good. There’s passion to their purpose and they are highly engaged in what they are doing and what they offer.
And well, you know, I wouldn’t expect less from marketers.

That passion came out even more when attendees got all dolled up for the AAM–MAA Awards. Thirty-seven awards were given out to 24 different firms in categories such as website design, collateral/identity materials, niche business development and print advertising for CPA firms. The awards encompassed nearly 150 entries from 60 different firms in two divisions: under $15 million in revenue and more than $15 million in revenue.

I was in the right seat, because at my table, there were two winners who won awards for multiple categories. Alice Grey Harrison, from Dixon Hughes, whom I was sitting next to, cleaned up with four glass statuettes, while her tablemate Cindy Stanton, from Gifford, Hillegass & Ingwersen, took home the same. And yes, AAM board members were wise enough to keep the boxes the awards came in to make them easier to transport home.

Of course, you have to enter to win the awards, and the submission process isn’t simple. Eric Majchrzak from Freed Maxick & Battaglia (who won in the public relations category for firms over $15 million in revenue) said getting everything together for the awards took about a day.

And then there were the biggies. Neil Fauerbach, partner and director of business development and marketing at Smith & Gesteland, in Middleton, Wis. was inducted into the Association for Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame. Leslie Leach, manager of marketing and business development at Armanino McKenna in San Ramon, Calif., was honored as Rookie of the Year (she’s been in the position for two years and has nearly doubled the size of the firm’s consulting pipeline due to her marketing skills). And Brenda Sleeper, business development director of BizActions, received the Volunteer of the Year award. The grand Marketer of the Year award went to Katie Tolin, marketing director at Rea & Associates in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Tolin, who is the first ever marketer at her firm, was nominated by her peers and then selected by a panel of judges for her work in formalizing her firm's industry niches, assisting in the development of its strategic plan and initiating a brand boosting campaign, among other endeavors.

Even as the association faced many changes this year — in its location, in its infrastructure — it managed to pull off a successful conference. Going forward, I see more partners taking notice of all the work that is being done.

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