ChallengesAt lunch the other day, I asked my dining companion, who happens to be the chief marketing officer at a top 50 CPA firm, what she saw as the greatest challenges for accounting marketing professionals.

Her answers re-affirmed what I'd heard anecdotally from other marketing professionals, and also coincided with some of the issues that had come up in discussions at the Association of Accounting Marketing conference I attended earlier this year. A few years ago, her answer might have been that marketers' biggest obstacle was convincing accountants that they needed a marketing director. But that's not really the case today. Accounting marketing as a profession has matured. The AAM, which basically created the accounting marketing profession, is in its sixteenth year. And while not every firm has a person devoted specifically to marketing the firm, nearly everyone has heard of the concept.

Rather, she told me, as others in similar roles at other firms have, that the biggest issue most marketers face internally is getting the firm's partners to understand and to value what a marketing professional does. As she pointed out, if they don't understand what you do, they won't be able to see the value in it. And, since the marketer's "product" is the firm and the people who make up the firm, getting those people on your side is essential.

But what to do about it?

What she said bears repeating. Getting the sincere support of the managing partner -- and of the firm's managing committee, if there is one -- is the single most important thing a marketer can do when they join a firm. Presumably, this person or persons had a lot to do with the decision to hire a marketing professional, and you need them to get the other members of the firm to understand why you are there and the direction in which the firm is headed. The MP (or MC) has the power to create energy and enthusiasm within the firm and to get people excited about doing something new. Which sets the stage for the second step -- going after the "low-hanging fruit." That means taking small, but visible steps to build the firm's brand internally to generate enthusiasm. A change as small as making sure the firm's mission statement is posted clearly and prominently in the firm for employees and clients to see, or simply getting your state society or a local paper to pick up news about your firm, can have a big impact when it comes to getting people involved.

So, what about those partners who "don't do marketing?" That's fine. Ask them to tell you who their clients are and what practice areas they specialize in, and make them a resource, even it's just to answer a client question. Or have them simply agree to take a client to lunch once a month. Just don't call it marketing.

Externally, the major challenge most marketers face is differentiating their firm in the market. Everyone thinks that their firm is superior to its competitors (at least, we hope they do). But how do you convince prospective clients that they should choose your firm over your rival down the street? Her solution is to conduct a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analysis annually: to give serious thought to what it is that your firm not only does best, but what it does better than other firms in your area. After all, no firm can excel at everything. Maybe you serve more clients in a particular industry than any other firm in the area and have developed expertise specific to that industry. Or maybe your firm is more efficient in doing audits than others. Perhaps you have a geographic strength you can leverage. The most important aspect of the SWOT analysis is to be realistic -- you not only have do something better, your partners have to know and believe that it is the firm's strength in order to leverage it.

After all, making marketing work depends as much upon them as it does upon the marketing director.

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