“Marketers as Change Agents: Plan for These 2018 Trends,” AAM High – Just the Gist!

By Christina Camara, INSIDE Public Accounting


Two CMOs and an MP recently shared how their firms remain relevant and competitive in a rapidly changing environment, while also discussing ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ in accounting firm marketing.

The panelists, speaking at a Jan. 30 AAM High webinar, selected three overarching trends that make their firms more adaptable to change – developing an ‘always-on’ business development culture, building a collaborative team and winning more business with content. Consultant Jennifer Wilson of ConvergenceCoaching moderated.

Here’s a summary from the panelists, followed by their lists of ‘what’s hot and what’s not.’


Developing an ‘Always On’ Business Develop Culture

George Forsythe, MP, WellsColeman of Richmond, Va.

Forsythe, who leads a $5 million one-office firm with 35 employees, describes himself as impatient. He says he wants new business – and fast – to provide more opportunities for younger staff. Forsythe started business development training for the entire firm to generate additional work for existing clients. The effort involves setting clear goals, tracking prospects through a pipeline process, following up quickly and finding out why the firm won or lost work.

Forsythe says he’s been reluctant to pressure prospects with too much contact, but has since learned that too little contact was perceived as  “ ‘you’re too busy to follow up with me and therefore you don’t want my business.’ ” The results of timely contact has been “crazy positive,” he said.

The firm’s focus is driven by a desire to remain independent, without being forced to merge. “For good or bad, I’ve become somewhat paranoid about the changes coming to our profession.”


What’s Hot?                                                                What’s Not

‘Always On’ Business Development                            Intermittent Selling

Results/Outputs                                                          Inputs, such as Hours of Effort

We (team-oriented)                                                    Me (individual-oriented)

Future-forward                                                           Reactive

Nimble                                                                        Rigid



Building a Collaborative Team

Rhonda Maraziti, CMO, Princeton, N.J.-based WithumSmith+Brown (FY17 net revenue of $175.4 million)

Maraziti, AAM’s 2016 Marketer of the Year, has brought national attention to Withum with its annual videos, which have featured flash mobs, carpool karaoke and he like. She says that nurturing a fun, collaborative environment with frequent feedback has helped the firm bring in top talent and keep then happy, rewarded and engaged. “We work hard and we play hard, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Maraziti says.

She says the “millennial mindset” has taken hold across generations. Everyone likes the flexibility to work at remote locations and the technological tools to make it happen. Withum also offers numerous recognition programs, encourages volunteerism, and provides 360-degree evaluations after every engagement. The immediate feedback for staff and managers alike has been particularly popular and effective, Maraziti says.

Wilson pointed out that 75% of the workforce will be made up of millennials by 2025, and clients will be largely millennials as well. “I think you’re leading in this area,” Wilson told Maraziti.


What’s Hot?                                                                What’s Not

Video Marketing and Social Media                           Dependency on Email

Marketing Automation                                                 Not figuring out ROI

Data-driven marketing strategies                             Doing same-old, same-old

Fun social tools to boost engagement                       Posting articles only

Developing rock stars                                                  Depending on one figurehead


Winning More Business With Content

Danielle Berg, Chief Marketing and Corporate Communications Officer, Atlanta-based Aprio (FY16 net revenue of $76.3 million)

Berg believes that digital strategies are the most under-leveraged sales channel in the accounting profession. The firm last year decided to commit 85% of its marketing budget to digital strategies with a focus on strong content that provides insight, fresh perspective and future outlooks – not sales pitches.

She says 82% of business-to-business buyers in a recent survey say a firm’s content had a significant impact on their buying decision. “What they’re buying is what it’s like to do business with Aprio – and is it better than firm X or Firm Y – and I think through content, you can give them a glimpse of that.”

The firm produces an article every business day, but makes it easy on the partners by asking only for an outline. A writer takes over from there. The firm has adopted a publisher’s mindset with a former reporter leading a cadre of writers and a consultant overseeing search engine optimization (SEO).

“Content marketing really does work,” Berg says. One tax partner generated $750,000 in new business in 2017 through a monthly newsletter. “It’s all about having the right bait in the water.”


What’s Hot?                                                                What’s Not

Digital Fills the Pipeline                                              ‘Feet on Street’ Fills the Pipeline

Insights, New Ideas                                                     Too Reliant on Experience, Expertise

Future-Ready Mindset                                                What Happened Last Year

Consistent Client Experience                                     Experience Differs by Practice Group

Advisory Mindset                                                        Mired in Compliance

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About Christina Camara

Christina Camara is the managing editor of INSIDE Public Accounting, which publishes two award-winning publications: the IPA newsletter and the annual IPA National Benchmarking Report, along with in-depth reports focused on IT, HR, and firm administration.

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