Sally Glick has spent her entire career in accounting marketing. She is the president of the Association for Accounting Marketing and chief marketing officer for Roseland, N.J.-based J.H. Cohn, one of the 25 largest firms in the country.

In a Q&A with WebCPA, she discusses how the role of accounting marketers has changed, how the association she now leads has evolved, the toughest challenge faced by accounting marketing professionals today, and the advice she would give a managing partner who is hiring a marketing professional for the first time.

How did you get involved in accounting marketing? How long have you been the chief marketing officer at J.H. Cohn?

I have been in accounting marketing for my entire career. I began working with my father, who is a CPA (sole practitioner) in Chicago. I worked with him to build his practice using most of the same tactics that have become so common for CPA firms today, including industry surveys, newsletters, networking, client mailings, seminars and other techniques to establish our name and position. It was the perfect training ground for me. I had an enormous amount of client contact and business development experience.

I have been with J.H. Cohn since the merger between The Videre Group and J.H. Cohn last year.

What are your primary responsibilities as a CMO?

My responsibilities at J.H. Cohn are twofold. These include managing the firm’s marketing team (comprised of eight professionals) and making certain that we send a consistent message to attract and retain quality clients for our firm. With a footprint that spans the New York and New Jersey market, it is important for us to establish good communication and cooperation across all offices to ensure uniformity and a common culture, while taking into account the unique environments of each office.

I manage the team, but I am also closely involved with promoting and reinforcing our position and reputation, as well as planning and assisting in the implementation of an integrated mix of marketing communications focused on key industries that demonstrates our niche expertise and leadership status. 

How did you get involved with AAM?

I became involved with AAM many years ago through the Chicago chapter. I received an invitation to attend a meeting and was excited to find a group of people who did the same thing I did every day! It was a wonderful support network and the new ideas and sharing helped me significantly. Until I bumped into AAM, I was very isolated in my role.
How has AAM evolved over the years?

In the beginning, AAM was obviously much smaller, attracting a core group of dedicated members who built the association and made it successful. Those members were really the pioneers of the profession. In the early years of accounting marketing, AAM helped members by exposing them to new ideas and providing them with the opportunity to share and network by connecting them to other marketers nationwide. The annual conference was the key event, but there was no listserv, no Web site, no quarterly conference calls, and a limited number of committees.

Today we offer our members an annual conference that attracts quality speakers and a diverse group of exhibitors, an advisory board that guides us and provides vision for our future, quarterly conference calls and AAM Speaks! -- our new speakers bureau. In addition, AAM is also forming strong relationships with influencers in the accounting profession as well as with other professional service organizations. In short, we have really “grown up” over the last 15 years! The evolution of AAM reflects the maturation of our profession.

What do you plan to focus your efforts on during your tenure as AAM president?

I believe that marketing is integral to the success of today’s firms and I would like to have that philosophy embraced by all CPAs.

As president of AAM, I would like to leverage the momentum that my predecessors have created and continue to attract more partners to the association, building credibility and confirming the importance of marketing within the accounting profession. We need to keep strengthening the alliances we have begun to form with others within accounting, including the American Institute of CPAs, the accounting associations and the media.

AAM adds so much value to accounting firms. In particular, our educational programs are of the highest quality, and I would like to expand the audience to include all those who are involved with business development/practice development for their firms.

I would like to launch a mentoring program as well. We have so many seasoned professionals in AAM today, and they can really impact the newcomers, helping shorten the learning curve and helping them become more influential within their firms.
CPAs firms seem to be a lot more receptive to marketing today than they were a few years ago. What do you think has moved the profession in that direction?

I believe there are a number of reasons that accounting marketers are growing more powerful and accounting marketing is more accepted amongst firms of all sizes.

First of all, marketers are maturing and becoming more knowledgeable, able to offer more resources, insights and guidance to their firms. Secondly, the firms are offering more diverse, nontraditional services that require more complex marketing communications. It was easier to explain core services when they were solely accounting, audit and tax. Clients knew what to expect. But with the inclusion of management consulting, information technology, profit enhancement, wealth management and a myriad of other services, marketing has become a valuable tool for communicating with the clients and prospects. Lastly, as the firms with strong marketing cultures grow more successful and profitable, the other firms see the competitive advantage and are more receptive to the concept.

How has the role of the marketing professional in an accounting firm changed over the past five or 10 years?

In many instances, marketing professionals a decade ago were reactive, helping their firms -- but perhaps without taking the initiative. There was a good amount of time spent on developing collateral materials and on other tangible activities. Marketers were not consistently invited to attend partner-level meetings and often found themselves lacking credibility. Today, the trend in the marketer’s role reflects the firm’s awareness of their enhanced capabilities and experiences. While collateral materials are still key to the branding process, many marketers are adding value in more intangible ways.

Many marketers have evolved into coaches, business developers and strategists. They take direction, but also provide guidance and are much more influential in their firms. The good news is that they are also being rewarded for their outstanding contributions to their firms by being invited to be partners/shareholders/principals.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing accounting firm marketers today?

I believe the biggest challenge today is the same challenge marketers have always faced: a lack of credibility and respect within the accounting profession. This is clearly changing, but too many firms still regard marketing with skepticism and reluctance. They do not completely understand that the marketer’s efforts really enhance their own networking and lead generation.

There are firms that do not send their marketers to the AAM conference, do not believe that ongoing education is critical, and do not support their marketer’s professional growth. This is somewhat short-sighted, but the good news is that more firms than ever appreciate the positive impact of their marketer.

What advice would you give to the managing partner of a firm who is bringing a marketing professional on board for the first time?

I would suggest that the managing partner work with the rest of the firm to establish a clear picture of what they would like a professional marketer to accomplish.

They should go through the mechanics of performing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weakness, opportunity, threats) and see where their firm stands — what do they do well; what do they do that is unique in their marketplace.

Based on an analysis of their own firm and some research into what their competitors are doing/saying, they then need to discuss what their expectations are and what parameters they will establish to evaluate success.

The firm should identify how they believe a professional marketer can help them achieve their growth goals. Without this, there may be disappointment, disillusionment and regret for having started the process.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the managing partner needs to be a strong advocate of the marketer. Without the power and prestige of the managing partner’s support, the marketer’s credibility and respect may be diminished, making it difficult to achieve partner compliance and accountability. Ultimately, everyone will fail.

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