One undeniable truth is that public relations and CPA firms make a good team. Unfortunately, PR doesn’t always get the credit it deserves and can largely go ignored by tax and accounting professionals. The general perception is that PR doesn’t benefit firms — at least in a measurable way (i.e., ROI). As such, it’s labeled as a “nice to have,â€� rather than a “need to have.â€�

In reality, a sound public relations program has the power to significantly boost client referrals, and that translates to higher revenue. So in this dollars-and-cents profession, it makes sense to integrate public relations into your business model. Bottom line, public relations, planned properly, can offer firms of any size enormous bang for the buck.

One of the biggest misconceptions of public relations is that it is limited to sending out press releases. This couldn't be farther from the truth. In fact, a solid PR program is part art, part science.

The artistic aspect is accomplished through creative initiatives. Beyond press releases, firms have the opportunity to implement innovative client communication programs and events that create a two-way flow of information and keep clients in close contact - for example, free onsite education events that include food and drink. I knew a CPA who hosted a client-appreciation barbecue four times a year, during which clients could seek advice and have questions answered. Clients also walked away with a free bottle of Tennessee-style barbecue sauce and a handsome share of wet naps. Other firms host free educational webinars, send out birthday cards, and launch other innovative PR-related functions that provide a positive forum to interact with clients.

The science of effective public relations is represented by the process itself - the structured plan of how to get the word out. That's where a sound PR program comes into play. When the right balance is created between the art and the science, the results can be very rewarding.

From increasing credibility and visibility via media coverage to cultivating enduring client loyalty through personalized events and communications, the Great PR Opportunity is up for grabs. Even if you are not yet convinced, just consider a few more truths and tips about public relations for the tax and accounting professional and how they might apply to your firm.

1. Prime the referral gold mine! The tax and accounting profession is largely referral-based, meaning that your existing clients represent a referral gold mine. It goes without saying that happy, satisfied clients are more likely to refer your services, and one of the best tactics for ensuring satisfaction is to make clients feel connected to you. Implementing scheduled client communication initiatives reinforces the relationship, because it consistently puts you in front of your client base. Events and communications that provide useful information (and are fun) will further enhance the relationship and build loyalty. And loyal clients are your best source for referrals.

2. Get techy - your clients will love it. How you communicate with clients and the general public should not be limited to e-mails and printed pieces. Advanced and highly popular technologies offer an array of powerful tools to get the word out. Social media tools provide a platform for broad communication deployment ... and make you look tech-savvy. Send out invites to client events through Facebook and follow up with reminders on Twitter. Your clients will dig it!

3. Enhance credibility, not just visibility - get your story to the media. While advertising increases name recognition, media relations increases credibility. When people read a positive article about an organization in a newspaper or trade publication, they are much more likely to have a favorable opinion of that organization.

Unlike advertising that promotes presence, media coverage offers credibility. Even better, coverage within respected publications is longer lasting than almost any other marketing effort ... and it's free!

4. Become a voice in the profession and your local community. You and others in your firm are experts on one or more subjects. Share your knowledge with others by authoring by-lined articles or white papers for local and trade media. Building your "voice" as a content expert will increase credibility and support a strong brand image. And as a bonus, when you share information that is helpful to others, they can't help but like you even more.

5. Press releases - still the foundation of your PR program. Because media coverage promotes credibility, never give up on trying to secure coverage. That means consistently developing and launching press releases and posting them on your Web site - effectively offering a history of your accomplishments.

In a constantly changing profession like tax and accounting, there is always a story to share. In fact, the possibilities for media-worthy releases are virtually endless. Here are just a few examples: announcing newly acquired clients, industry awards received, expansion of business/facilities, involvement in local events or charities, scholarships created and awarded, staff promotions, joint ventures, published white papers, and speaking engagements. Remember, to get the media's attention, you have to consistently put yourself in front of them. Press releases are a tried-and-true public relations tool.

6. Your Web site is a great PR tool. Your Web site provides the perfect home base for your clients and the media. The more frequently clients are directed back to your Web site, the stronger the connection. And media professionals will appreciate the shortcut to your information. So when planning public relations activities, don't forget about your Web site. Embed dynamic links in client communications and press releases that direct your audience back to your site.

There are numerous opportunities for tax and accounting firms to improve their visibility, enhance their credibility, and attract new clients - all of which add up to solid growth and increased profitability. A dedicated public relations program can accomplish all of these things. The Great PR Opportunity is real, and the most successful tax and accounting firms are taking full advantage of it.

Kristy Short, Ed.D, is president of SAS Communications 360 (www.sascommunications360.com), and a professor of English and marketing at University of Phoenix and Cleary University. Reach her at kristy@sascommunications360.com.

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