The knee-jerk reaction to the significant downturn in the economy is to cut, cut, cut - each and every expense line on your income statement.

One of the easiest targets for these cuts is the firm's marketing budget. After all, marketing is an overhead cost with a return on investment that is difficult to track. I have witnessed this reaction in drastic and deep cuts to personnel, sponsorships, newsletters, advertising and more.

The economic downturn is real, is significant and is changing the way we do business, and I recognize that your firm will be revenue-challenged in the foreseeable future. Clients will be leaving, moving downstream and having trouble paying their bills. Perhaps for the first time ever, your firm will be losing clients and revenue through no fault of your own.

So knowing that you will be losing revenue and business, aren't you justified in reducing your marketing efforts? On the contrary - this is the time to "turn up the volume" and increase all aspects of your marketing. Think about it this way: If you are going to lose 10 percent of your business because of the economy, why not bring in 10 percent more new business to cut or even offset your losses? And how are you going to do that if you reduce, mitigate or abandon your marketing efforts?

Arguably, there are more new business opportunities in a down economic market than in a healthy environment. Why? Because a predictable amount of clients are always seeking new relationships. The economic downturn exacerbates this amount, as many clients are looking downstream for less expensive firms. And as we all know, the downstream opportunities usually result in the best new clients.

For the Top 100 Firms, I am concluding that there will be significant opportunity with clients of Big Four and other national CPA firms moving down-market. Consequently, the Top 100 will be shedding significant opportunities to smaller regional firms, and so forth.

NOW FOR THE NEW

The time is now to increase your marketing. Whether you have a dedicated in-house marketing team or outsource to a consulting firm, be sure to have enough staff to take on these new efforts. Meet with your partners and marketing advisors to form a plan of attack. Be creative with your options. Start with your current marketing plan and branch out to new mediums, markets and methods. Don't be afraid to try something new.

Traditional advertising might seem like an easy solution, but it can be expensive and not always as effective as other methods. See what you can do in terms of grassroots marketing. Empower your entire staff to get your firm's name out. Networking events, mixers, community organizations and civic groups are all opportunities to find new clients.

If you decide to increase advertising, try to mix things up a little. You might want to try new markets or go online. Maybe try to implement a new advertising campaign to emphasize a different aspect of your firm. Be sure to distinguish your firm from your competitors.

Accept each and every opportunity to demonstrate your firm's knowledge and expertise in the industry. Partners and senior staff members should be writing articles and accepting speaking engagements. Your marketing staff should have an established relationship with members of the press in the area. A quote from a partner about a new tax law in a local business publication can be invaluable free publicity.

While you are working on your new marketing push, don't forget to stay true to the clients you already have. Continue to provide top-notch service and offer any extras that you can. Technology can provide many options for your current clients, from your firm's Web site to e-mail alerts and even Twitter.

If you are the firm in your region to up the marketing ante, and your competition is hiding in a cave or under a rock, what could be better? Your firm is turning up the volume, and your competition is turning off the radio.

This is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for confident and focused firms to take a leap forward, instead of a leap back. Firms that are bold and willing to take a risk may realize huge rewards in this down economy.

Gary S. Shamis, CPA, is managing director of Cleveland-based SS&G Financial Services and a member of The Advisory Board.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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