The missing ingredient of growth: Does your firm need to hire a marketing director?

By Jean Marie Caragher

Download the PDF

Firms of all sizes are placing a greater emphasis on obtaining new clients. Research conducted by the Association for Accounting Marketing and Hinge Research Institute revealed that high growth CPA firms employ more marketers, one marketer for every 34 people vs. 45 people. This demonstrates that marketers can contribute to your firm’s growth. Yet, firm size isn’t the only criteria when considering hiring your firm’s first marketing professional.

The decision to hire a marketer

“A CPA firm should consider hiring a marketing professional sooner than they otherwise might think,” says James Roorda, CPA, managing partner of Roorda, Piquet & Bessee, Inc. (RP&B) (6 partners, 25 total employees, 1 office). RP&B’s marketing efforts were inconsistent, restarting several times a year because of client needs, hiring needs or emergencies.

RP&B’s partners recognized the firm should be growing more than 10% per year. They also recognized that they had some talented professionals who they were only going to keep in place if they could offer them ownership, which fit into their overall grander scheme so the founding partners could retire. “In order to offer ownership,” explains Roorda, “we knew we had to grow the firm.”

Enter Karen Rashid, who joined RP&B four years ago as the firm’s first marketing manager. “Even though it was difficult for us to find budget to hire Karen,” says Roorda, “the smarter decision was to bring her on board and make sure that she earns her keep. We have no regrets whatsoever. We had a reasonable process in place, but nothing compared to what we have today.”

Rashid coordinates all RP&B’s marketing efforts, tracking, measuring, monitoring everything, and providing resources for prospect meetings. “The key issue is that we never ever let anything fall through the cracks,” says Roorda. “We’re looking for every single opportunity we have. It has resulted in our growth moving from an average of 10% to 16-18%, which was significant for us and more than compensated for her position.”

Gilliam Coble & Moser, L.L.P. (GCM) (5 partners, 35 total employees, 2 offices) hired its first marketing professional in June 2012. “I knew we were ready,” says Scott Williams, CPA, partner. “We discussed [hiring a marketer] among the Leadership Team from time to time for several years. Finally, we placed [the topic] on our retreat agenda for serious debate.”

GCM’s Leadership Team concluded creating a marketing culture for the firm was vital. “It was apparent some members were on board and others not,” explains Williams. “We deliberately sought a consultant to ready ourselves. Over 18 months of working with Capstone Marketing, habits formed and a culture developed. Marketing is now part of our DNA.”

At Albright Crumbacker Moul & Itell, LLC (ACMI) (6 partners, 32 total employees, 2 offices) the revenue line was flat. “Partners are too busy with client work,” explains John Itell, CPA, managing partner, “so there was no time to devote to marketing efforts. The administrative department is at 100% capacity with no flexibility to focus on marketing, either. Most of us seem to be right-brain oriented and do not feel we have experience in marketing.”

Determine the skills required for your marketer

The skills required of your marketer depend upon their role. Do your marketing goals revolve around your website and social media? Hire a digital marketer. Do you organize a lot of seminars and events? Hire an event planner. Implementing an inbound marketing strategy? Hire a writer. Involved in many networking organizations? Hire an extroverted marketer who can represent your firm at these events.

Before hiring Rashid, Roorda met with a firm in the next county that had a marketing professional on board. He met with one of their key partners and the marketer to get a sense of what a marketing professional could do for RP&B. “We were looking for somebody who had CPA firm familiarity,” Roorda explains, “somebody who had a creative bent and good social media skills.”

Williams contacted fellow PKF North America members to learn more about the role of marketing professionals. They decided to look for someone with fundamental marketing skills, web and social media know-how. “We wanted someone organized, committed to building a network of professional relationships, with integrity and learning attitude,” explains Williams.

“These qualities are similar to what we seek in other professionals.”

After joining ACMI in January 2015 as a processor Branigan Rak’s role turned full-time marketing in April 2015. “We were looking for a college graduate with a positive personality, a doer,” says Itell. “We wanted someone who executes plans well and in a timely manner, young, but mature. Someone with fresh ideas and a creative edge, a catalyst.”

The impact of a marketer

Rashid keeps the RP&B team accountable. “We have a standing time on each of our calendars where Karen stands in our doorway and says, ‘It’s time to make calls’”, Roorda says. “We’re not 100% perfect, but we’re good at that. [These meetings] keep the process rolling every single week. We make calls. We pull up our customer relationship information and [determine] the last interaction with particular prospects. Is it time to contact them again? If we’re not getting any success by making phone calls, what’s our next best means of contacting them?”

Rashid also drives the firm’s pipeline. Pipeline meetings are held every three weeks. The RP&B team goes through the pipeline and talks about where they’re succeeding, where they’re not, and other centers of influence that can help warm up a prospect. “We’re attacking the pipeline and trying to convert it to proposals all the time,” explains Roorda.

“The most valuable contribution our marketing coordinator makes is keeping us visible throughout the marketplace with a positive brand image,” says Williams.

With Rak on the job just a few months ACMI is still in the exploratory phase of seeing what works best for their firm. “She has been efficient at getting the ball rolling and moving us in the right direction,” says Itell.

Roorda thinks that having a full-time marketer sent a strong message to their referral sources that said, ‘We’re serious players. We’re growing our firm. We have invested in marketing. We want you to recognize that if you provide an opportunity to us, we have the capabilities and individuals on board to turn it into a success and make that referral source look good.’

Advice for managing partners

Having hired their first full-time marketers what advice do they have for fellow managing partners?

“Rent before you buy,” advises Williams. “Engaging with Capstone Marketing conditioned us culturally for the next step.”

“Find someone who is left-brain oriented and has a sense of trust,” says Itell. “Convince the ‘doubting Thomas’’ of the firm that utilizing someone solely for marketing efforts is the best thing for the firm’s success.”

One thing Roorda learned after hiring Rashid was attending an Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) conference. “That was something we should have done ahead of time,” says Roorda. “It would have solidified the absolute benefit of having a marketing person on board. It also would have answered a host of questions: What size firm do I need to be? How much should I be paying? What should the person be doing? All those questions can be answered in an AAM conference in spades. That’s the simplest advice I’d have for anybody.”

Final word

My best piece of advice is to hire your firm’s first full-time marketer when your partners are prepared to help them be successful. This includes 110% support from the managing partner. Rarely will an entire partner group be excited about having a marketer on board. The role for those with the greatest objection is to stay out of the way and allow the rest of the team to participate and succeed.

Set expectations early. Do your homework and survey your partner or management group about the skills they would find most valuable in a marketer. Use the survey results to create a job description that will drive the recruiting process. Refer to the job description when your marketer becomes overwhelmed and needs to prioritize.

Provide your marketer with a budget and other resources to encourage success. This could include membership in the Association for Accounting Marketing; a marketing plan; a client/prospect database; a functional, responsive website; market research; and, the ability to hire specialty consultants, e.g., writers, designers, inbound, search engine optimization, and trainers.

Jean Marie Caragher is president of Capstone Marketing, providing marketing consulting services to CPA firms that include brand surgery, marketing and strategic planning, inbound marketing, retreat facilitation, client satisfaction and retention, training and recruiting. She is the author of The 90-Day Marketing Plan for CPA Firms: How to Create the Roadmap for Your Firm’s Growth. Contact Jean at 727-210-7306 or