By Eric R. Elmore, PICPA Vice President, Marketing & Member Experience
About 10 years ago, accounting firm partners wanted to become cutting-edge inbound marketers, filling the internet with insightful and informative blog content. This meant, of course, someone had to do the writing. And firm partners do not like to write. There is the dilemma in a nutshell. With billable hours looming over everything, how could firm marketers achieve this strategic objective?
Over the years, my marketing peers have expressed frustration with the mixed signals. Partners do not like to write, yet they approach their marketers with, “Hey, I see whitepapers from ABC Accounting everywhere. How come we aren’t doing that?” The answer is simple. ABC Accounting has made it a priority to become thought leaders through their writing. It is not easy, but here are some pointers that helped transform the firm I was at into a writing machine.
I’ll start with one of the hardest points to get accountants to embrace. Return on investment (ROI) has evolved. Generally, it had been associated with revenue: for example, $100 invested in a marketing effort should yield $200 in revenue. This is how accountants usually gauge it, but it is different now in the age of social media. Data is now being captured in other areas of value, such as brand recognition, recruiting success, likes, shares, open rates, impressions, etc. Writing blogs, whitepapers, social content, and newsletter articles drive these “other” ROI value areas which, in the end, will drive revenue.
Once partners accept these other ROI values, the foundation has been set for a writing framework. You can now move to the next phase, what I call the “Three Rs of Engaging Partners.”
Since my days at a Big Four firm some 25 years ago, I’ve learned to approach partners in a certain way. When trying to get them to write and understand the benefits of their writing efforts, this Three Rs approach can be vital.
Reason: You’ve already spent time educating the partners on the broader view of ROI, so there is no need to discuss this ad nauseam. But you do need to give concrete, non-ROI reasons for asking them to write. It can be anything from expanding their knowledge on a subject they already know, to helping increase their credibility within their circle of influence. Explain how having the smartest, most-experienced people at the firm (partners) write is linked to firm growth. A phrase I often used was, “You cannot be a thought leader if you don’t tell people your thoughts.” Writing is the gateway to becoming a true thought leader and conveying their expertise.
Respect: Partners are extremely smart and astute businesspeople. Many have taken the entrepreneurial leap to create something from nothing and now pay our salaries. They deserve the respect that is their due. As marketers, we must respect their hours and ensure the partners that nothing comes before client work. Whether you are asking them to write a quick blog or a more in-depth whitepaper, respect their time and the client focus. It will go a long way.
Realistic: What are you expecting from the partners? For example, whitepapers are often a result of hours and hours of research coupled with the time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys). Be realistic. You cannot ask a partner to have a white paper written in 30 days, or to write a blog post in three days. It is not going to happen. Agree on what is comfortable from a time and effort perspective for the partner and be flexible if client work suddenly becomes a priority.
When becoming thought leaders is a priority for a firm, time is made for writing. Additionally, leadership will make partners accountable for it by making it part of their overall review process. Partners contributing to the firm’s practice development efforts by creating thought leadership content is fast becoming the norm at many firms. Marketers have little say in this, but it is a way to ensure that more writing is done.
Much of what has been discussed here is about managing expectations. Writing does not come naturally to everyone and is a burden for many. Certainly, it is a large time commitment. Explain the benefits, the not-so-apparent ROI values, and pay heed to the three Rs. These steps should help partners become more receptive to writing to build brand recognition and firm growth.
Should you and your partners want to engage in these thought leadership pursuits, but don’t feel your website or mailing list has the reach you want, the PICPA has an option for you. Our CPA Now blog, which posts original blogs twice a week, accepts submissions. One of the PICPA’s priorities is to establish CPAs as thought leaders, so we would gladly help you in your efforts to get your partners’ expertise posted. If you have any questions, you can reach out to me or PICPA’s blog coordinator, Matt McCann.
Sign up for PICPA's weekly professional and technical updates by completing this form.
Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of the PICPA's officers or members. The information contained herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For actionable advice, you must engage or consult with a qualified professional.