Mark Lee interviews PR and communications expert Simon Goldie who shares his tips and advice for accountants.
ML: Simon, some people put a lot of pressure on accountants to ‘do more PR’ and for larger firms to ensure that someone is responsible for external and internal communications. Perhaps we could start by clarifying the difference between these ideas and then we can move onto what advice you would give smaller firms when it comes to PR.
SG: If you don’t mind I’d like to break down the question.
ML: Of course.
SG: Accountants, and anyone else for that matter, should only do the amount of PR that is necessary and appropriate to what they want to achieve. I am sure that some people get very excited about all the opportunities to do different types of PR: being quoted in the press, tweeting, blogging and so on. But before you do any of that it is important to look at what you want to achieve, what you have to say and who you want to say it to.
ML: Delighted to hear you confirm that Simon as it echoes what I say when I help accountants understand how social media works (or doesn’t in some cases).
SG: When most people talk about PR they think about publicity and being in the press. Public relations professionals tend to think about PR as managing an organisation’s reputation and helping that organisation alter perception and behaviour through different types of activity. ‘Communications’ is seen as broader although you could say it is pretty much the same thing but when someone has a communications role they will be responsible for more than just getting the company in the press. They will look after the company website, newsletters and perhaps the brand. Large accountancy firms will also want to communicate internally to their staff about what they are doing and to clients and others.
ML: Right. What about smaller firms?
SG: For a small accountancy firm I would go back to my point about doing what is appropriate. If you want to keep your firm top of mind for clients and to get potential clients to do business with you then some regular insightful quotes in the trade press or financial sections of newspapers they read could work well. One thing to note is that you might want to be in your client’s trade press and not yours.
ML: So if all your clients are retailers you want to be in a newspaper they read?
ML: Ok. let’s move on to consider the different ways of communicating an accounting firm’s message to the outside world. It’s not all about ‘spin’ is it?
SG: It is about explaining to clients and others what you do. To demonstrate what you do, your spokesperson might regularly comment on a specialist area. The firm might want to tell the world about the launch of a new service or the opening of a new office.
ML: Is ‘accounting firm opens office’ news?
SG: It may be news to the firm but you are right, the press are unlikely to be interested. The story they could be encouraged to write instead is that the new office has increased jobs in the area or shows the robust financial health of the firm. Now some could argue that is spin but what it really is, is finding a newsworthy angle.
ML: In your experience has the relationship between the press and accountants changed over the last few years?
SG: Undoubtedly. The days of long lunches or meeting a journalist in a pub after work have gone. The way journalists work has changed. In the past they had more time to work on one story, now they are expected to file several stories in a day and get them on the newspaper’s website quickly. They are spending a lot more time sitting at their desks, covering more topics, writing and blogging stories and using Twitter to source news, comment and ideas. That means the way a PR professional works has changed to.
ML: More Twitter and less lunch?
SG: Exactly. And while newspapers have reduced staff and journalists are hungry for stories they are looking for news that will have a big impact on their readers. That means it is actually harder to get a story in the paper. Most people think it is far easier these days than it used to be because of the need to fill space on the newspaper website. That is simply not the case.
ML: And presumably, social media has provided ample avenues of communications for organisations?
SG: Absolutely. Anything I say about social media I should caveat with the fact that I am talking to the guru of Twitter and LinkedIn for accountants. You have done a fantastic job of engaging with opinion formers on Twitter and building groups on LinkedIn.
ML: Thank you.
SG: As I know you also explain, the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be everywhere. Some organisations panic and think they need to have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page, a Google plus account, a Pinterest board, a business Twitter account and more. Accountants should only bother to go where their audiences are. For instance, when I was at the Chartered Institute of Taxation I set up a Facebook page to engage with students, a LinkedIn group to connect with tax professionals around the world and a Twitter account to release news and be part of the tax policy conversation.
ML: That makes sense to me too. Now let’s move onto what accountants need to think about if they want to secure more PR.
SG: Where are your clients? If you are a national firm then you need national coverage. If all your clients are in one area then focus on the media that serves that area. That said, if you know the majority of your clients read one national newspaper make sure you are quoted in it.
ML: So what can local firms of accountants hope to achieve through PR?
SG: To be quoted by the local newspaper and local radio station and that will help keep their name top of mind.
ML: I know from personal experience how easy it is to be misquoted in the press. If an accountant is misquoted or if the meaning of what they said gets twisted when abbreviated, what do you suggest they do?
SG: It depends what has been written. If it is a piece of technical advice that will impact on people then you, or your PR representative, should contact the journalist and explain they have got it wrong and why they need to publish a correction. Otherwise if a quote is taken out of context the best thing is to take it on the chin. It is unlikely it will be remembered. The important thing is you are being quoted.
ML: How would a firm know when they should be hiring a PR professional like you?
SG: If they want to up their profile, launch a new service, change the perception of the firm in the market or if the media are going after them for something.
ML: What are the biggest pitfalls accountants should avoid if they deal with the press direct?
SG: These days an off the record remark can end up in print, so better to not say it if you don’t want to see it in print.
ML: Last question, what is your biggest tip to help accountants when dealing with the press?
SG: Always be helpful and don’t use jargon.
ML: Many thanks Simon. I hope our readers find that helpful.
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and writes the BookMarkLee blog. This and his ebooks are for accountants who want to stand out and be more successful in practice, online and in life. He is also chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax experts
Simon Goldie is a communications adviser with more than 20 years’ experience of managing reputation and helping build brand through effective communication strategies. He can be contacted at Simon Goldie Communications.
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I porvide NED-style mentoring support to sole practitioner accountants and am Chair of the Tax Advice Network - a nighly ranked online resource for anyone seeking indepdent tax advisers. As such it is also a long established lead generation facility for tax advisers and tax accountants.
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