Broadening Appeal : Making A Firm Irresistible
In the summer of 2004, when the economy started to wrest itself from its doldrums,the NewYork City-based firm of Adelman, Katz Mond (AKM) decided the time was ripe to take a more proactive and consistent approach to its marketing activities. The firm partners recognized that marketing was a necessary component of their practice, but they didn’t have all the expertise they needed to effectively address it. Without an ongoing marketing effort, the best that could happen was more of the same: tax work, audit work, and the like.
Marketing, they reasoned, would make it more feasible to explore broader areas such as family office and financial services.They felt that many opportunities lay hidden within the firm’s current client base and that these could only be leveraged through a strategic marketing plan.
GETTING THE RIGHT PARTNER
According to Administrative Partner Lawrence Katz, they neededsomeone with whom they could share “chemistry.” So, when he, Co-managing Partner David Mond, and Steven Skyles-Mulligan,executive director of Evoke Strategies, a marketing communications company, sat down together, there was a”senseof clicking,” hesays.”It was an ability to work with and play off of each other that wasn’t so apparent with the other firms we had interviewed.” Katz and Mond also liked the way Evokepresentedspecificideas, even at the first meeting, when it wasn’t clear the two firms were going to be working together.
Once retained, Evoke created a tagline, “Your Most Trusted Business Advisor,” designed a service menu that listed every area whereAKM could help clients, and produced a brochure that became the centerpiece of its strategy to change the way clients and prospectsperceivedthe firm. It emphasized an answerto a central question: “What valuedoes your CPA bring to the table?”
Katz points out that the printed material developed as part of the plan has helped immensely.”It’s nicetobeabletoputsomething ike our brochure in someone’s hands. It’s one very positive element-among others-that clientswill considerwhen deciding to retain us. But it’s not just about having something; it’s about having something good. This works on both our confidencelevel in the sellingconversation and the prospect’s confidence in us.”
The brochurereceivedthe 2006American Graphic Design Award for excellence in communication and graphic design.
CLIENTS PERCEPTION CHANGES
Katz says that the marketing plan has transformed the selling process for partners, so that it becomes a series of conversations in which clients and prospective clients gain useful insights and timely, practical advice. “This has enhanced the firm’s reputation, increased the number of prospects who have felt comfortable working with AKM, and caused current clients to have conversations with their AKM CPA that they would not have had previously. Overall, we feel the level of confidence clients place in the firm-already very high-has gotten even higher. There’s an increased perception that AKM is a very hands-on firm and, although a small it is one that is committed to growing alongside its clients.”
The new look has attracted a lot of attentionand created the opportunityto talk about things that the firm might not have spoken about to particular clients, according to Partner Warren Bergstein. “This has led to discussions about other industries we work in and broadened our referral opportunities. Clients and referral sources have gotten the impression that is getting larger and branchingout. There is an overall sensethat we can be a key part of clients’ overall financial lives, helping with planning, and strategicdecision making,as well as with the more mundane and traditional areas.”
To stress that point, Katz notes that there is one client who had a lot of funds in various accounts and had designated in his will how he wanted those funds disbursed. “After reading the short discussion of estates and trusts in our marketing materials, he contacted his CPA with a number of questions. He was very concerned that some funds be available for various purposes at present, but wanted to keep his bequests intact. With our help, he created a trust, which gives him greater control and greater flexibility.
Another client had worked with o ne of the firm’s partners on tax matters only for over 30 years, notes Mond. “The marketing material raised some interesting questions for him and he contacted his AKM partner.The client with a diverse set of business interests received income from many different sources. As the client himself had difficulty tracking it all, he wondered how his selected executor (his son) would address this. He a l so wondered whether there was a better structure for managing his interests. After consulting with AKM, an LLC was created, with the client as managing partner and several of his beneficiaries as minority partners. The approach is far more streamlined, the client’s son has a better understanding of the diverse interests, and the tax implications have been favorable.”
SHARING RATHER THAN SILOING
Alan Adelman, the firm’s senior co-managing partner, indicates the partners feel that what’s growing for them and is of great value to their clients is the “financial “quarterback”approach mentioned in th e brochure. “We’ve always said that service is number one, two, three, and four with us. Now, we’ve found more practical ways to act on this commitment. The re is an increasing involvement in all areas of clients’ financial lives: planning, investment, insurances, retirement planning, and the like, that dovetails nicely with the generalized nature of the practice.”
An interesting outgrowth of this approach, and the marketing plan, is a greater tendency of the partners to share, adds Katz. “A real danger in partnership organizations is ‘siloing,’ where you effectively have as many di ie r ent businesses as you have partners. This usually does not make the most business sense for the firm and deprives clients of ready access to the depth and breadth of expertise that exists within the firm.”
He emphasizes that AKM has worked to break down these barriers. ‘There’s greater sharing of information than ever before, and partners have an increased tendency to collaborate on client work. Each client still has one principal contact at the firm, but other partners morefrequently help in areas where their expertise is greater,” Bergstein adds, “If somebody calls me now and says ‘can you do I know we can do X. It may not be me personally doing it, but the whole working together.” In addition, to Adelman Bergstein, Katz, and Mond, the other partners are Jack Gold, Stuart Hammer, and Craig Venokur.
Mond notes that the firm has a wide range of servicesthat it now can perform for almost any client including business management, family office, technology, trusts and estates, and small/family/closely-held business involving structures and governance, exit and succession planning, accounting, financial statements, and tax.