Branding and values are not likely to top a practitioner’s priority list. But these marketing endeavours are more than just a “lick of paint” or an introspective exercise, they reflect who the firm is and where it wants to go.
Whether through tech developments or mergers and takeovers, today’s turbulent market can disrupt the most stable of accounting firms. Client expectations may not always filter down to all levels or a merger can often derail any chance of building a cohesive unit or keeping the cogs moving.
To get all staff on the same page or to promote their heritage, some firms are re-evaluating their brand and values.
A good example of this is Jeffreys Henry. At the start of this year, the mid-tier firm updated its 20-year-old logo. What might have seen cutting edge two decades ago looked dated when viewed through the lens of today’s fast-moving marketplace.
Changing a logo might not seem like a massive deal but for Jeffreys Henry, it is what the logo represents that means much more. It’s far from just updating their business cards - it’s planting a flag of intent.
Reflects current landscape
“From all angles, client expectations have changed, increased competition in the mid-market and the level of client sophistication have changed,” said Bhimal Hira, the chief marketing officer at Jeffreys Henry. “The brand we had wasn't a good reflection of who we are today.”
This is a good example of why firms, especially mid-tier firms, invest so much in branding and core values.
Jeffreys Henry wanted something that appealed to its ideal clients and the new breed of accountants who are more interested in tech than traditional services. The old logo didn’t speak these clients.
Research into Jeffreys Henry's purpose fed into the final design: a logo inspired by the determination of an athlete reaching their goals.
According to Hira, the logo represents everyone pulling in the right direction. And this is key: you can spend thousands to create a design but you’ve got to get the clients and the staff to buy into it.
“When we were doing the research internally we found a disjoint of client expectations: what senior managers and partners want to promote, and what you get when you are a client with Jeffreys Henry.
“When you’re filtering down the levels and speaking with the people delivering that service they didn't understand why clients were with us, they didn't understand the level of service. It's about ensuring employees buy into that.”
Core values after a merger
Never is the concept of values and branding more important than in the aftermath of a merger.Whenever there is an acquisition or partnership, the chances are that there will be a disconnect between how the combined entities are run.
Kreston Reeves used their merger with Spofforths in 2016 to re-evaluate the firm’s value statements. It was an opportunity to refine what the firm stood for and how as a complete unit they can put client service at the forefront of what they do.
As a firm grows, it can become more difficult to get a handle on client care compared to a one or two-partner firm, where they can take a more agile approach to responding to instances where clients feel let down.
Prior to the merger, Kreston Reeves managed the 30-partner firm with a ‘good citizenship’ policy, where partners would call out other partners and staff when client care fell below expectations, but the merger with 18-partner firm Sporfforths meant it would have to readdress its values.
“Both us and Spofforths had similar values but they were different. You can see it was going to be a tough job squashing them together,” said Kreston Reeve’s business advisory partner Tim Levy. “But we both reckoned independently that without something to have and show to clients and staff we were going to have trouble reinforcing client care messages and reinforcing behaviour messages internally”
Reinforcing client care
After the merger, the firm had an away day where all offices were shut and staff were in one place, and that’s where the firm installed some uniting values. “This was very much a bottom-up approach. The managing partner said to the staff: 'if client care is important how are we going to deal with each other and how are we going to deal with clients?'” said Levy.
Although partners were involved, they didn’t have much input. From this, the south-east-based firm created a ‘working together' client charter and assembled a client care group to ensure these client focussed behaviours and its culture and values are upheld.
Having this client care group led to the firm making the 2017 Practice Excellence client service shortlist, and has reinforced accountability as the firm grows. “It’s now defining the way we work together and for our clients in a way that sets us apart from our competitors, allowing us to attract and retain the best talent, and build a strong brand in the marketplace,” said Levy.
Don’t look at branding and values in isolation
Although Jeffreys Henry’s rebrand publicly launched at the start of this year, the project has been ongoing for over 18 months and the lessons learned from the research has already shifted expectations internally.
That’s why Hira stressed that the logo and branding project shouldn’t be seen in isolation.
“A lot of businesses will launch a website, update the business cards and that's it. That's a brand refresh done. It's a lot more than that. It is about driving the core values and the change internally,” said Hira.
“It's linking it to things like performance reviews and annual reviews, so when you've finished client tasks such as tax returns or R&D claims, you're benchmarking the level of service back to the core values.”
He concluded: “I think by driving it deeper there is a lot more value in it.”
The 2018 Accounting Excellence awards are now open, celebrating excellence in every section of accountancy. If you’d like more details or would like to apply, click here. Entries close 20 April.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.