Communications, CPA Growth Trends

PR for Accounting: Reasons and Methods to Work With a PR Professional

PR for Accounting - PR letters made out of metal lit and shadowed

Have you considered what PR for accounting can look like at your firm?

Over more than 17 years of supporting professional service firms with communications, my agency has experienced many client situations that required delicate public relations. These situations can include:

  • Angry clients
  • Challenging M&A negotiations
  • Negative search results
  • Illness or death of a partner
  • C-level termination
  • Data security breaches
  • Police activity near the firm
  • COVID-19

Having a plan for the unexpected is important. When you’re thinking about PR for accounting, you’ll want to create your crisis plan and team in-house, or contract with a public relations professional. However, in times of crisis, firms usually need both.

Positive public relations and medical outreach can enhance an accounting firm’s visibility and reach results. PR for accounting can look like earned, paid, or made content that consistently highlights internal knowledge, community involvement, and culture.

Through a proactive public relations focus, you showcase a reputation and a team capable of handling the unexpected, and that builds trust.

It builds trust inside and outside the firm. Leaders should take this role seriously. I’ve seen the negative impact when leaders don’t keep their marketing and communications professionals in the loop during delicate negotiations, business transitions, or a crisis. Avoiding planning means you don’t have a plan when a reporter calls or when employees and clients start wondering what is happening.

Effective PR for Accounting Methods

For proactive public relations, I recommend a strategy session to determine possible situations when your firm or team may need special communications outreach. Invite employees and leaders at all levels who can discuss firm management, client service, community involvement, your digital reputation, security, and culture.

You won’t anticipate every situation, but the idea is to nail down the process for either promoting an opportunity or responding to a situation. Remember, public relations are for displaying the positive too, such as:

Once you have decided on the extent to which you can develop your in-house PR team and plan, then consider any outside guidance needed. Outside PR professionals often come from media backgrounds and education. They understand the practical and legal nuances of talking points, interacting with journalists, and the timing of your communications.

Here are a few examples of what PR for accounting can look like:

An accident with injuries happened in the firm’s parking lot.

No employees are involved, but police are on the scene and blocking off the building. Reaching out to a PR professional eases emotional concerns and confirms that police reports don’t mention companies, only the streets where the accident occurred. In this situation, only internal communications are necessary to let employees know to either work from home or come into the office later. If a reporter does call, a designated spokesperson can respond that the police are handling it and add nothing more.

The firm has discovered serious mismanagement by a key member of the executive team.

This executive is well-known in the community and not near retirement. The timing of the executive’s departure is immediate, and the firm has signed assurances of the executive’s cooperation, but there are no guarantees. The firm needs to have consistent internal and external communications to avoid mixed messaging, including how to address any severance provided. Due to the quick response necessary to get ahead of the story, the internal team may seek an agency to support clear messaging and consulting before, during, and after the executive’s departure.

A client is getting media attention for potential environmental violations and other noncompliance, and a reporter reaches out to the CPA firm for comment.

The client is working through the proper channels to resolve the issues. Therefore, the firm is questioning whether to respond. However, “no comment” creates a bad public impression because the reporter may state that the CPA firm did not respond to inquiries. In this case, craft a statement that sticks to the facts and highlights the firm’s openness to dialogue about tough topics.

These situations are time-sensitive and emotional. Without a plan and a well-trained team, emotions can derail the best leaders and create impacts beyond the initial situation. Partnership with a PR professional sets the tone for training, planning, and responses in sensitive situations. The ultimate decision is always up to the firm, but professional guidance can avoid common pitfalls.

How to Work Well With PR Professionals

If you do retain an outside PR agency or professional, here are tips to make the relationship effective and positive.

  1. Keep them in the loop! Contact them before you act.
  2. Expect a quick response. PR is a 24/7 role, and you should know how to reach your PR professional by text if necessary.
  3. Don’t hold back. To do their best work, PR professionals need all the details as background to determine a strong public strategy and avoid surprises later.
  4. Expect discretion. Situations for your firm should not be used as work samples or sales pitches by the PR agency. If deemed necessary, have them sign an NDA.
  5. Appreciate their skills. PR strategies and messaging are personalized to each client. Your PR professional must think and act quickly while anticipating the future and expectations of all stakeholders.
  6. Ask questions. Your PR professional can offer guidance at any time, not just during a crisis.

Of course, we all prefer positive news to bad news. Get in the habit of looking for good news in your firm. Earned PR is the best way to recognize and share your firm’s purpose, thought leadership, growth activities, and community impact. Do more of that throughout the year. When the unexpected occurs, you will have a solid reputation, media savvy, and the best team on which to stand confidently.

About Dawn Wagenaar

Dawn Wagenaar is Principal of Ingenuity Marketing Group, LLC, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ingenuity works with accounting firms across the country on branding, research, marketing and growth to make their professionals famous. Dawn is past chair of the AAM Conference Committee and Virtual Education Committee and past member-at-large for AAM National Board of Directors.

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