Client newsletters are the most widely used, often abused, and hotly debated marketing tactic for CPA firms of any size. Here are three highly subjective myths and realities to help your firm determine whether it's a worthwhile tool, or how to improve your current newsletter.

 

DO YOU NEED ONE?

Myth 1: Every CPA firm needs a client newsletter. Marketers want you to believe that your firm needs a newsletter. But traditional newsletters - containing commentary on tax legislation, personal finance or who's joined the firm - are not a marketing necessity. In fact, at many firms the client newsletter is a marketing albatross. Each issue involves a frustrating hunt for timely information of genuine interest.

Some firms avoid this pain by slapping their logo on boilerplate content purchased from a third party, but those firms can pay a bigger price, in terms of brand damage. It says to target audiences, "We value our relationship, but we don't really care enough (or know enough) to produce our own newsletter."

Reality 1: Your firm needs to drive top-of-mind awareness. The intrinsic purpose of tactics that communicate with clients, prospects and referral sources is to reinforce the perception that your firm is smart, trustworthy and prepared to help.

Beyond keeping and growing existing clients, your primary marketing goal is to drive top-of-mind awareness with target audiences. That way, when a prospect is seeking assistance, there's a greater likelihood that your firm will be selected, or at least will be put on the "short list" of candidates. If that's the goal, then consistency and quality of the contact are critical; neither necessarily requires a newsletter format to accomplish.

 

DOES ANYONE CARE?

Myth 2: It's nice to think that clients and prospects really care about your firm's growth and accomplishments. The sad truth is that your success is more important to your competitors, and to current and prospective employees, than it is to the people who generate your firm's revenue. Blowing your own horn can also backfire. When your firm touts that a senior partner has just published a book and was a guest on CNBC, your target audiences may wonder why that partner isn't focused on client matters, or whether the cost of his book's publicity tour will result in higher hourly rates.

Reality 2: Your clients, prospects and referral sources care about themselves. Understanding that all people are self-interested can make you a better marketer. Rather than creating newsletter content that's based on what you know, on what you've done or on what you can do, focus instead on the ideas, talents and accomplishments of your target audiences, regardless of whether your firm played any role in their success.

This is a very tough concept for many CPA firms to understand and embrace: that the most powerful form of thought leadership does not involve pushing out your own ideas. Instead, it involves deciding what ideas merit the attention of your target audiences, as well as what voices are worth listening to. True thought leaders seek to manage the conversation, not control it.

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Myth 3: A newsletter is a cost-effective marketing tactic. The old saw, "cheap is dear" rings true when it comes to newsletters. If it's created in-house, few firms actually track the hours required to write, edit, approve and publish their newsletter. If it consists of cut-and-paste content, few firms consider the cost of producing a newsletter that very few people will read or respect. Regardless of content, only a small number of CPA firms proactively work to expand their newsletter's reach, to maintain an adequate customer relationship management capability, or to properly leverage readership analytics from open and click-through rates, if their newsletter is delivered online.

Reality 3: Your marketing requires more than a one-way conversation. A fundamental marketing objective is to engage clients and prospects in a conversation regarding their specific needs and opportunities. Despite the buzz regarding social media, those channels also fall short in terms of engagement. If your firm's traditional and social media marketing tactics do not serve as catalysts to drive face-to-face discussions and word-of-mouth referrals, then their "cost effectiveness" can never be measured on a meaningful basis.

Gordon G. Andrew is managing partner of Princeton, N.J.-based highlander Consulting Inc., a firm that helps companies gain and retain customers. reach him at (609) 987-0200 or gordon@highlanderconsulting.com.

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