Advertising and Accounting

Years ago, I worked for a firm whose principal partner, a man with no family or outside interests, kept us at work on Christmas Eve until after a 6pm "staff meeting" -- no holiday cheer in that firm, and we secretly began to call him "Uncle Ebeneezer." I was reminded of that when I saw a BDO ad on television, touting the fact that clients could call a partner of that firm to discuss business at midnight. What they were trying to do was tout their dedication to client service. But I had to wonder what kind of masochist would want to work for a firm where you clients could assume you have no life? Don't get me wrong. I've spent a lot of years in both advertising and marketing, and was doing that in the early days when the industry first began to grudgingly admit that a little advertising would not bring about the end of the universe. In general, I think tasteful and professional ads are good for the industry. But you have to be careful about the message. The message should flow first, not from the fervid mind of an ad copywriter, but from the firm's mission statement. And the message, if delivered through a mass medium like television or the newspaper, needs to be weighed not just for its impact on potential clients but also on potential and present employees, vendors and referral sources. You obviously can't stick to just the weary message of how precise your number-crunching is. That, in my mind, is as counter-productive as the current advertising for the dental industry -- "We'll numb you so much you'll never know your teeth are gone." As an old ad guy -- both copywriter and account manager -- I'd love to see more firms touting their value as a trusted business adviser. Showing how accounting services can help startups survive. Showing the reasons why accounting is a grand and noble business profession. There is a balance to walk in advertising an accounting firm that lies somewhere between the "ship upon the shoals" and green eyeshades. A message that conveys the strength of the profession, and members who are interesting people with ideas and solutions, not just number-crunching skills. When I see an ad that touts that your firm's partners stay up until midnight waiting for a client call, I have to wonder. If I am meeting with that partner first thing in the morning, will he or she be awake enough to help me?