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Getting increasingly aggressive about attracting new clients

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CPA firms that get into marketing themselves can’t expect an immediate bottom-line impact, warns Ralph Albert Thomas.
CPA firms that get into marketing themselves can’t expect an immediate bottom-line impact, warns Ralph Albert Thomas. - (AARON HOUSTON)

As its members confront a fiercely competitive marketplace, the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants has made it a central part of its mission to help them build their brands and attract new clients.

“Firms are a lot more aggressive now in terms of business development,” said Ralph Albert Thomas, chief executive of the NJSCPA. “Even smaller firms are hiring (public relations) firms, or they are dedicating someone internally to the business development area.”

The society has an online marketing tool kit with sample press releases and media pitches, and the “find a CPA” button the society's website guides potential clients to firms with the expertise they're looking for.

The society encourages members to serve on committees where they form relationships that lead to business.

“Having worked together on a committee, they're able to reach out to solicit help for a client,” Thomas said. “You get a comfort level, because this is about being a trusted adviser.”

It ultimately can build business.

“If somebody comes to you and says, 'I really need someone to help me with XYZ client,' you are only going to pass them to somebody that you know and have had good experiences with, or you've heard good things about from other people,” he said.

When the media calls with questions, the society connects them with CPA experts. And CPAs get to showcase their expertise by writing for the society's magazine, which goes out to its more than 15,000 members and professionals in other industries.

Networking events sponsored by the society bring bankers and lawyers together with CPAs, and “that can be a great source of referrals and opportunity for business development,” Thomas said.

David Plaskow, communications manager for the society, said the large number of mergers in recent years means that for a CPA firm, “it has become more challenging to differentiate your brand.”

Hence, firms are “being a lot more aggressive in courting business,” Thomas said. He sees more senior staff of CPA firms serving on the boards of chambers of commerce and other business organizations.

Thomas feels they are motivated “to lend their expertise, and it's also an opportunity to engage with fellow senior execs from other organizations and companies, both large and small, to see if there's a business opportunity.”

Thomas said firms need to be patient when they venture into marketing.

“Our members are bottom-line oriented, and they like to see immediate results,” he said. But this may take some time: they have to take a long-term perspective.”

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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