By Stuart Kahan
The legacy of Cotton + Allen began in 1921 when William Cotton passed the CPA exam and began a practice in public accounting. In fact, he was one of the first CPAs in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The firm was first called William Cotton, CPA and later changed to Cotton and Eskew, then William Cotton and Company, and now Cotton + Allen.
The firm’s legacy has been built on the leadership of William Cotton, followed by Nolen Allen in 1960 and Bob Montgomery in 1994. Since its early beginnings, the firm’s expertise and experience has helped the region’s best businesses and entrepreneurs succeed.
HELPING TO GENERATE LEADS
According to Bob Montgomery, Cotton + Allen president, the idea to re-brand the firm was planted several years ago, when the partners of the firm began to focus on lead generation and growth. “The firm has always enjoyed a great reputation and a well-established client base, but few individuals within the firm were generating leads to help bring in new business. There was a strong desire to build a sales culture and a need for the firm’s partners and managers to develop more leads.”
In the spring of 2004, the firm retained Jean Caragher of Capstone Marketing, who specialized in providing marketing consulting services to accounting firms. The firm also created a marketing task force and together with Caragher, they developed a marketing plan, which included a new brand for what would be called Cotton + Allen.
WHAT PROMPTED ALL THIS?
“The existing logo was not representative of a position, as it was simply a typography solution,” says Renetta Carrier, the firm’s marketing director. “So, we went outside our doors for design and direction to Jude Lindquist and Janet Reed, both of Atlanta to create the new brand.”
Moreover, Montgomery notes that the firm added a new tagline, The Legacy Continues. “Cotton + Allen has nearly 85 years of local accounting experience, so we decided to build upon that strength: Cotton + Allen has a history, a legacy in Louisville, and that experience, wisdom, and knowledge can only be parlayed into a positive experience and positive results for its clients. The history and wisdom of Cotton + Allen continues: It’s just as strong and innovative now as it was in the 1920s.”
Carrier adds that the new logo represents both Cotton + Allen’s past and future: “The arc represents what Cotton + Allen can do for its clients: create positive, upward results, while the black box represents the firm’s solid past, and the lowercase letters represent the firm’s accessibility.”
MARKETING PRINTED MATERIALS
But, the re-branding didn’t stop simply with a logo and a tagline. “We also redesigned our brochures so that the firm had a specific look,” says Carrier. The three photos on the front of the folder represent Innovation (person with arms in the air – its what you feel like when you’ve just come up with a great idea), Dedication (the puppy – what’s more dedicated than a dog?), and Experience (the library/books – implying Cotton + Allen wrote the book on their industry; also referring to a body of knowledge at their fingertips).”
She notes that the services are listed on the folder from the bottom to the top of the arc, from traditional to consulting. In addition, from a design standpoint, Carrier points out that the square size of the brochures is consistent with the square box in the logo. “Each photo includes the colored arc to visually show how Cotton + Allen integrates into their clients’ businesses.”
Montgomery emphasizes the fact that the photos used in the brochures are purposely black and white as opposed to most firms that use four-color photographs on a shiny, gloss paper. “The use of black and white images with a colored arc printed on uncoated stock helps Cotton + Allen to visually stand out from their competition and to be remembered more easily. It also relates to the past (black and white) and the contemporary present and future (colored arc), as is evidenced in the new tagline.”
So, what has been the outcome of this re-branding? “The new brand was announced last August,” says Montgomery. “One of the internal goals was to arm the Cotton + Allen team with a consistent message about the firm and to build pride among our members. Now, we have a clear message and professionally produced marketing materials, which translates into confidence when our accountants are asked to generate prospects or cross-sell services of value to our clients. To date, we can see positive results internally; however, it’s too early to say if the efforts have helped retain a client or bring in a new one—although we have every reason to believe that it will certainly contribute to those efforts. It has definitely been well received in the business community – we have received many compliments.”
Commensurate with this re-branding is the fact that Cotton + Allen has added staff and is in an excellent position to handle any engagement efficiently. “First, we won’t compromise the level of attention we offer any of our clients,” says Montgomery. “Second, our most senior members play a hands-on role in serving all our clients, bringing their considerable expertise to each assignment. Finally, we’re flexible enough to respond quickly to unusual circumstances with innovative solutions without being hampered by policies and directives from some distant management.”
THE RANGE OF CLIENTS
Cotton + Allen is a full-service accounting and advisory firm service the region since 1921. Montgomery says that the firm has forged strong, long-lasting relationships based on candor and trust. “Our talents extend beyond traditional tax and accounting work to include a broad range of disciplines that address business and financial needs today and in the future, and although we serve a broad range of clients in many professions and industries, we do have a concentration in manufacturing and distribution, real estate and construction, and professional practices that encompass architects, engineers, lawyers, and physicians. Moreover, we also provide valuation services and litigation support to many local attorneys.”
He adds that services to privately held businesses comprise a significant part of the business. “Family-owned businesses face special challenges that include the emotional component of working with family members plus the extra pressure in terms of multigenerational wealth management planning.”
Montgomery says that as a member of the RSM McGladrey Network, the nation’s largest tax, accounting, and business services organization serving midsize businesses, Cotton + Allen can offer its clients access to the resources, experience and professional knowledge base of a national firm while still providing the level of service and attention a locally owned, independent accounting firm can offer.