By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
It seems there are quite a few solo marketing directors out there, and I received some fantastic responses when I asked for input. So, now we are going to call this a series!
This interview was with Katie Springob, marketing director for Rippe & Kingston in Cincinnati. Katie serves as a solo marketing person at this firm of 105 employees, which is quite the task. (I know, I’ve done it too!) Her input below is great for any law or accounting firm marketing directors, whether you are on your own or not.
How long have you been in your current role? Approx. 3 years.
Was this the first time you a) worked for an accounting firm and b) was the sole person in a marketing department? Yes and yes.
What was the most surprising thing you learned when you first started this job? That there wasn’t much structure about my role – no formal job description, no formal budget, etc. I’ve come to realize that this is mostly due to a lack of understanding about what marketing is – we’ve all faced the “can you make this look…pretty?” or “Will you write a press release?” view of marketing. My accountants knew they needed a marketer, but they weren’t quite sure why. This was a huge leap from my previous marketing roles.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face being the sole marketing person in an accounting firm?
1. As the lone marketer, I have no one to back me up/bounce ideas off of/brainstorm with. In fact hardly anyone in the firm even processes things the way I do.
2. I constantly feel like a drain on time and resources. (In an industry driven by charge hours, my role is an awkward one.)
3. I’m always marketing the marketing function – continuously educating what marketing is and why it is valuable.
How do you address or overcome these challenges?
1. Surround myself with really smart marketers. I just gathered the marketing and/or practice development directors from a professional group our firm belongs to and created a roundtable type setting. We have monthly calls and chat in between to share challenges, successes and vent frustrations. I also have a good network of non-accounting marketers and try to find the folks within my firm who are interested in marketing and foster that thinking.
2. Organized meetings, patience and a dash of nagging are the keys to overcoming this. Don’t ask a question you already know the answer to, don’t expect a quick response and don’t be afraid to follow up. One of my partners gave me the nickname “uber-nag.” I’m taking it as a compliment.
3. Capitalize on situations whenever you can. If someone is talking about a great commercial they saw last night – find the marketing lesson in it and apply it to your firm. If your firm wins a client, ask “why” you won until you find a marketing tenet and build on it.
What are some of the upsides of running your own department? Aside from the obvious (I’m in charge, no one to disagree with me, etc.), it has given me the opportunity to re-evaluate how I approach situations. In the past I’ve always had someone higher up to lean on. Now, if I feel strongly about something, it’s on me to make it happen. So it’s been a journey in self-discovery.
How do you stay abreast of what is going on in the industry? RSS feeds from great blogs, Accounting Today and other trade pubs. I’ve created a network among the staff and take a true interest in what affects them – in turn they’ve begun to think of me when they hear of a new law/trend.
What exciting new marketing initiatives are you implementing at your firm? My definition of “exciting” and “new” have certainly been altered since entering the world of accounting marketing! One of the biggest things we’re working through is the creation and implementation of an umbrella brandmark across all of our entities.
What advice do you have for those that may be new to this type of role? Be patient. There are plenty of opportunities to get discouraged – lack of understanding from your peers, finding yourself constantly on the back burner or get-to-tomorrow list. Have confidence in what you are proposing and continue to educate your accountants bit by bit. I’ve often joked that I plan to get a “baby steps” tattoo. I’ve yet to make good on this promise, but thinking about it reminds me that what seem like baby steps for me as a marketer are actually strides in change for my accounting counterparts.
Thanks so much for your contribution and great advice, Katie. What do you think? How have you addressed challenges? Are you going to get your own “baby steps” tattoo? I’d love to hear your thoughts.