Capstone Conversation with Siri Svay
This is Jean Caragher, president of Capstone Marketing. I am excited today to be talking with Siri Svay, the practice growth specialist for PKF Texas and recently named the Association for Accounting Marketing Rookie of the Year.
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Siri graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduation moved to Los Angeles, moved to the big city, for a career in music. And I understand you worked for a music publication.
Jean: Then, moved back to Houston in 2017 and began with PKF Texas about 2018?
Siri: Yes, ma’am.
Jean: A few of Siri’s accomplishments include: the firm’s “Desk Buddies” video series, increased engagement on social media, and the firm’s Faces of PKF Texas campaign, spotlighting various PKF Texas team members.
A very interesting route, going from film to accounting marketing. Congratulations on being named Rookie of the Year. How do you feel about that?
Siri: Thank you so much. I am truly shocked, but I’m honored at the same time that I was selected. I think there were probably many very good candidates and, again, I’m honored that I’m being recognized by the Association for this.
Jean: The reaction on the day when they announced the AAM-MAAs was priceless. It didn’t totally make up for not being able to do it live, but it came pretty close, I thought, in my estimation.
Siri: For those listening, what happened, I was so shocked by the news I started crying on camera, but it was a very touching moment. I’m glad that we were still able to come together as an association and marketers to celebrate everybody who won that night and got recognized.
Jean: It was a lot of fun. This is not only the first Zoom Capstone Conversation; we could probably call this the COVID series. I have some additional questions, in addition to what I normally ask, because I like to see trends as part of the responses. Why don’t we start off with the biggest change to your marketing program due to COVID. What are you guys mixing up?
Siri: Actually, there’s a few big challenges. For example, there has been a shift to more COVID-19-related content, which I’m sure is across the board. That is the big, hot topic right now. This includes consistent communication to all of our clients, through our Constant Contact email blast system. The pandemic is affecting all businesses; it’s service providers looking out for our clients’ businesses. We want to make sure they’re apprised of new developments and keep that conversation going.
Another two things that come to mind is we lose a lot of in-person engagements. We host live seminars exclusively for our clients and prospects, so we have to thoughtfully work around and do more of a virtual Zoom webinars space. We’ve been working with our niche teams to make sure that we do that effectively and easily. And live events. A lot of our sponsorships revolve around people networking in the marketplace. We have to think about how to do that still in a virtual space.
The pandemic is affecting all businesses; it’s service providers looking out for our clients’ businesses. We want to make sure they’re apprised of new developments and keep that conversation going.
Jean: The technology, we’re using it right now, it helps but it doesn’t replace the face-to-face. I’m looking forward to a time when we can safely go back and network and spend time live.
Siri: Yes, for sure.
Jean: During all this you mentioned a lot of really good points about the need to communicate, and the frequency of it, and keeping your clients informed and all of that. What have you learned over these past few months about yourself, or your team, or your firm, and how you’ve been able to adapt?
Siri: Transitioning to a work from home strategy has been an adjustment, but I think it has showcased our firm’s resilience in the face of a worldwide crisis. And again, communication. It’s always key, but I think everybody has stepped up their game with effective communication. We’re not able to just walk down the hall and say, “Hey, so-and-so, just get deadlines moving.” We use Microsoft Teams and try to still have those face-to-face conversations. It’s a big change but we’re rolling with the punches, and we’re trying to stay apprised on those things. Our chief culture and chief growth officers have been very, very good about sending out firm-wide communications every so often when new things are developed in the pandemic with the PPP loan. That gets distributed across our firm for 150 members.
Jean: We can’t forget about that either. We’re all concerned about clients and prospects, as we should be, but our own team members are equally important. We don’t have the water cooler to stand around, to talk about what’s going on. You know that when you don’t communicate with your team, they could start daydreaming about what could be happening. It’s always best that you’re transparent with that information.
Siri: Yes. There has been a lot more transparency and conversation from our leadership team and I applaud them for keeping all of us engaged. There are still ideas of how we can still come together as a firm even though we’re not in-person.
Jean: Absolutely. I know that you’ve only been with your firm for a couple of years but, in that time, what do you find is the biggest challenge to marketing an accounting firm?
Siri: I think one of the greatest challenges is differentiating. I want to say this is across the board; differentiating our firms in an industry where we basically offer the same services. It’s compliance services, everyone’s marketing themselves as CPAs, professional accountants, and business advisors. How do we stand out in that crowd? One of the ways we try to differentiate ourselves is highlighting our people, spotlighting our team members. Because those are the people that are engaging with our clients the most, and it’s about maintaining and building those relationships.
One of the ways we try to differentiate ourselves is highlighting our people, spotlighting our team members. Because those are the people that are engaging with our clients the most, and it’s about maintaining and building those relationships.
Jean: You’re absolutely right about that. I do some branding work at Capstone Marketing and we always hone in on the number one way that any firm is different from the other is its people, how you deliver that service and the experience that your clients have in working with you.
Siri: That’s our “Faces” campaign. The faces of your engagement team, this niche team, or not-for-profit team. It’s building those personable, approachable connections with people.
Jean: Where does Faces of PKF Texas happen? Is it social media? Is it advertising? How are you using it?
Siri: It first was about our digital advertising that we have with the Houston Business Journal. We’ve streamlined it through our website, with social media, and then some of the videos that I’ve developed. We have a hashtag, #FacesOfPKFTexas.
Jean: Of course, you do!
Siri: Just keeping that in all of our messaging across the board to maintain the branding of that campaign.
Jean: Thinking about your own skillset, which skill makes you successful? Obviously, you’ve got many skills, otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. What do you think has the most impact that helps you be an effective marketer for PKF Texas?
Siri: For me, I think, video content is key for the new frontier of content creation. As you mentioned earlier, I went to University of Texas at Austin and got a degree in film and screenwriting. I’ve had experience with video editing and I think that’s one of my strongholds as a marketer at my firm to showcase the firm in a new and innovative way, developing new mediums for us to get our message out there.
A video can figuratively and literally speak volumes. It develops that more personable, relatable approach. You mentioned “Desk Buddies,” which I personally love. It showcases our team members, and not so much in a serious accounting role, but you can just see different personalities shine, you get to know our people. That’s branched off into different culture videos where we’re getting more personable touches of our team members that maybe clients or the marketplace doesn’t get to see.
A video can figuratively and literally speak volumes. It develops that more personable, relatable approach.
Jean: That also has to play a big role in your recruiting efforts, I would imagine.
Siri: Yes. It’s really rewarding for me to know that this is a new way we can showcase PKF Texas. I work very closely with our recruiting and retention manager, Mandi Fields, and she’s very great about reporting. All the recruits loved “Desk Buddies.” They want to know when Season 2 is coming out, but we’re in the middle of COVID so it’s a little bit difficult and challenging to make that happen.
Jean: I don’t have the stats in front of me, but we all read and hear about the importance of video and adding that to your marketing mix and how the number of people who turn to video to learn more information, it just increases all the time. Video is really something we need to pay attention to.
Siri: It is. And “Desk Buddies” was building on top of our video podcast, “The Entrepreneur’s Playbook,” which is geared more towards a client-facing target audience. But it’s great to have both mediums where everything is directed to our website.
Jean: Now, I know that you just have those couple of years of experience in accounting marketing, but if you could give advice to other accounting marketers, what would you say?
Siri: This is going to sound very philosophically cliché, and I apologize, but this is my life of living is finding ways to stay creative, and inspired, and love the work that you’re doing. Engage with your team members at your firm to keep that energy alive. Even though we’re in an industry you wouldn’t primarily think of as creative, you can make it creative. As marketers, we work in a creative space and thrive on that creativity. What better way to produce content than constantly being inspired? Admittedly, I never thought I’d end up working at an accounting firm, but I’m here.
Engage with your team members at your firm to keep that energy alive. Even though we’re in an industry you wouldn’t primarily think of as creative, you can make it creative.
Jean: Neither did I. That was a long time ago!
Siri: But we’re here. This is a chance for us to wear our creative caps every day, and this is an opportunity to make accountants look cool in the marketplace. That’s what I like to say.
Jean: That’s very good advice, but I think it’s also important that marketers have the firm culture and atmosphere to build upon that creativity. It takes a partner group who is really going to embrace the marketing function.
Siri: That’s for sure.
Jean: You have that at PKF Texas, which is awesome. If you had an opportunity to maybe not give advice, but make some comments, to managing partners what would you say to them?
Siri: It kind of echoes some of your sentiments. Marketing is a strategic effort, and a collaborative effort. And marketers, I think, need a pathway to a seat at the table and be part of a firm’s strategy so that they can thoughtfully be proactive versus reactive to what’s going on and what needs to be put out in the marketplace. If your marketing team doesn’t have a seat at the table, keep them apprised of important information they should know about. I suspect a lot of accounting marketers are not from an accounting background, so it’s good to keep them in the loop and what’s going on in the industry so that they can effectively communicate the messaging and make your firm look good in the marketplace.
If your marketing team doesn’t have a seat at the table, keep them apprised of important information they should know about.
Jean: It just keeps getting more and more competitive, doesn’t it?
Jean: You’re in a competitive market there in Houston.
Siri: Yes. Houston is very competitive.
Jean: And Texas, in general. It’s that much more important that you can cut through the clutter and promote that brand of PKF Texas.
Siri: Yes, absolutely.
Jean: Siri, you’re a delight. We’ve been talking today with Siri Svay who is the practice growth specialist at PKF Texas and the Association for Accounting Marketing Rookie of the Year. Congratulations again, Siri. Well done.
Siri: Thank you much, Jean, really appreciate it.
Jean: You’re welcome. We’ll talk soon.