CPA consultant Alan Boress co-wrote a compelling and very readable book for accountants last year titled "Mastering the Art of Marketing Professional Services." The 413-page tome offers a valuable how-to primer for firms on the art of generating new business.

"New business is the lifeblood of every CPA and consulting firm," Boress noted in the preface. "Some CPA firms today are going out of business, being forced into mergers, surrendering superb talent, losing valued clients, being bought out, or slowly disintegrating before everyone's eyes because not enough new clients and profitable new work are coming in to sustain the firm and pay off the partners who want to retire."

Fair enough. And firms who have mastered the art of marketing are undeniably in better shape than their counterparts who rely simply on word-of-mouth and other referrals to breathe new life and revenue into the fold.

But Boress, or rather his director of marketing (who wrote the chapter) gets it all wrong when it comes to press releases.

The chapter's basic premise -- that hiring new staff or celebrating a firm anniversary is newsworthy (while employee wedding anniversaries and staff meetings are not), and that press releases are usually just printed 'as is' is dead wrong. Not that wedding anniversaries and staff meetings are news (any firm that would even imagine they are is sorely out of touch with reality), but that these kinds of drab, everyday business events are worth the effort of a press release. And that any self-respecting reporter would ever think of just printing a press release as news.

Reporters get dozens, if not hundreds of press releases each week, and unless you've got an exciting new product to hawk, your founder just died, or an unhappy client's suing you for $100 million, they're not going to be interested in anything you send them. On the other hand, reporters are always on the lookout for something compelling, exciting, different or special. Appeal to those instincts and you might have a chance of making it into their publications.

As an insider looking out, here's what will make reporters and editors sit up and take notice when receiving a press release:

  1. A headline that grabs their attention. Reporters are readers at heart and love a good story. Draw them in with a great headline and lead. Don't know how to write like this? Hire an outside PR person -- preferably one who's had experience as a reporter.
  2. Don't bury the lead. I can't tell you how many times the interesting news in a press release is buried somewhere in paragraph three. Most days, it will get tossed before I even get that far.
  3. Reporters are suckers for first, youngests or oldests. Did you just promote the first woman partner, the youngest African-American, is your managing partner the state's oldest-practicing CPA? That kind of news hook is appealing.
  4. Look for non-obvious stories to promote. If your firm's moving from a landmarked building after 45 years, send out a release with interviews from the founding partner's children or younger partners who recall the history of the building and tie it into the firm's history. This could end up as a feature story for a daily newspaper if pitched right, complete with details on the firm's specialties, where you've moved and a black and white photo of the founding partner in front of the building. You can't buy advertising like that.
  5. Position experts in your firm as commentators on pending legislation or a breaking news story. Reporters are always looking for quotable experts who can offer depth and color to national news stories, and get tired of using the same ones over and over. Read the papers and keep in touch with all the business news. Then when you spy the right mix, trot out your expert in a press release to select media, listing the expert's credentials and noting they're available for comment.
  6. Remember the MEGO factor - My eyes glaze over when I read anything too technical, too wordy, or filled with acronyms. Keep it simple, keep it brief, and hammer home just one or two points.
  7. Pitch the publications your clients read. Sure it's great to be quoted in the Wall Street Journal, but if a CPA in your firm is quoted in a medical practice management trade publication, thousands of potential clients will be reading that story, and it's much more likely to bring in new business.
  8. Don't follow-up with a phone call. You write a good, targeted press release and we'll call you. If you don't get a call, we're not interested, and furthermore, we're annoyed that you're pestering us.
  9. Send releases to time with your target publication's deadline. If you send a daily publication a release about the unveiling of a new product or service on a certain day, get it to them a week beforehand. Any earlier and it will get lost under a pile of papers, any later and it will be old news. Respect the window of opportunity. Timing is crucial.
  10. Put contact information in the top right-hand corner. And preferably, put a firm partner or spokesperson's name there instead of a P.R. firm, and make sure they'll be available to return reporters' phone calls in a timely fashion. Reporters hate having to go through gatekeepers to get quotes for their stories. If you make it easy for them to contact key people, they're more likely to make that important phone call and give your firm the free publicity it's seeking.

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