Tracy Crevar Warren has been honing her skills as an accounting firm marketer since 1989 – when the freshly-minted marketing major landed a job with Dixon Odom, the firm she’s still with today. Under her leadership and the guidance of other longtime professional services firm marketing professionals, the Association for Accounting Marketing has grown from a small, grassroots coffee klatch to a vibrant, influential organization. She agreed to answer a few questions posed to her by about the nature of accounting marketing, and how it’s evolving.

How did you get involved in marketing for accountants?

Back in 1989, not long after graduating from college, I got to talking to a member of my company's CPA firm and he was telling me about the new field of accounting marketing. Definitely not something that was addressed in my marketing or accounting curriculum in college. I must admit the idea intrigued me, although I swore never to have anything to do with accountants after surviving Cost Accounting as a marketing major in college. The next thing I knew I was interviewing with one of the Big 8 firms. Coincidentally, about a week later an ad appeared in the newspaper that I answered and the rest is history.

I have been with Dixon Odom since the fall of 1989 when the average tenure of a marketing director was 10 months. My initial focus at the firm was to help to develop a marketing culture and to build a marketing infrastructure. Today, I oversee the firm's marketing and business development area. Working with such a progressive group of professionals who have made marketing and business development something that is very much a part of Dixon Odom has been amazing.

What's your educational/professional background?

I have marketing and management degrees and have worked in the marketing and sales areas since graduating from college. My professional career began in developing and promoting professional development seminars. It was definitely a good background for accounting marketing and business development as it involved so many of the skills that I use each day.

Tell me a bit about the evolution of AAM and your role in it.

I joined AAM in its early days. At that time there were very few of us and we really grew up in the profession together. As we reached out to each other to share war stories, successes and failures, we developed close bonds with our peers. Today the Association has grown to more than 500 people from the US, Canada, England, France and Japan. Along with AAM's growth and the diversity of our membership, comes the need for additional infrastructure, educational programming and continued need for sharing best practices and networking. These are the areas that I have been closely involved in developing along with the other leaders of AAM during the past few years.

Do women face a particularly tough path as accounting marketers since most firm managing partners are men?

I never really thought of it in those terms and have never found this to be an issue for me. I think succeeding in this profession is about forming relationships with people. It is so important to really understand where people are trying to go and identify how you can help them get there. If you can grasp that and truly help someone achieve his or her goals, gender shouldn't matter.

Speaking of goals, what are AAM's goals for the coming year -- for the next five years?

Mirroring the growth of the profession is the goal of the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM), which is now in its 13th year. AAM is on its way to becoming a worldwide professional association. For more than a decade, AAM has established itself as a resource for pioneers in this field by helping members find better ways to do their jobs by offering educational opportunities, benchmarks, tools and introductions to state-of-the-art products and services. More importantly, AAM has brought these professionals together by fostering an environment that encourages networking, not only across the US but Canada, the UK, Europe and Asia.

Along with the maturing of our industry come new opportunities and new challenges. AAM has a much more diverse membership than ever, requiring much more diverse attention. In order to meet these needs, AAM must have a more complex infrastructure in place; providing more levels of educational programming, offering more opportunities for sharing best practices and continuing to provide opportunities for members to network with their peers. We are working to accomplish the following in an effort to help members find new ways to help make their firms more profitable: Continue to build the membership. Continue to grow and improve the annual conference. Implement quarterly educational programs of varying levels for members. Continue to develop area chapters Strengthen ties with state, national and international associations. Develop a Speakers Bureau. Develop Think Tanks for members to network and share best practices.

What are the biggest roadblocks facing firms that want to bring in new business?

Developing new business is typically a lengthy process. In order to be successful it is important to stay focused on your goals, which requires much determination and tenacity. Sometimes it is easy to get frustrated and walk away before goals are reached, especially in a world where chargeable time is king. Having a dedicated marketing and business development staff in place is extremely beneficial in helping firms to stay on track and make important strides that the partners and leadership team have set for the organization.

What do you see as the biggest challenges/opportunities for accounting marketing related to Sarbanes-Oxley?

Although Sarbanes-Oxley continues to evolve, it has definitely changed the playing field for companies, their boards of directors and their CPA firms. Firms outside the "Big 4" are seeing opportunities for new business open up that may not have otherwise existed without such legislation. Currently public companies and their CPAs are seeing the biggest impact from the legislation, but the private sector and their advisors watch closely from the sidelines as legislation is being introduced by various states that could bring the same types of regulations to private companies. It will be interesting to see what developments take place in the coming years as it will keep us all on our toes.

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