As we come out of busy season and move into late spring, we begin another growing season for accounting firms—conference season. Gone are the days of attending accounting conferences for the sole purpose of earning CPE credits. Now, accounting professionals are attending industry conferences to meet prospects, connect to referral sources and: learn something new beyond accounting topics. Additionally, according to the 2015 Marketing Budget Benchmark Study, (conducted by the Association for Accounting Marketing and Hinge Research Institute), sponsorships and events are two of the largest marketing expenditures for accounting firms. With the continuously increasing expense of registration, travel and sponsorships, here are a few tips to ensure you maximize your time and investments in the conferences you attend and sponsor.
Select the Right Conferences
There are so many conferences, how do you choose which ones you attend and potentially sponsor? A solid strategy is to attend the same shows as your clients and referral sources. To find out which ones, simply ask—they’ll be happy to share that information. Not only will you build stronger connections with your existing clients, you will have the opportunity to meet representatives from other companies like theirs or even to be introduced to potential clients while you are there. Likewise, if you elect to sponsor a conference through a table or breakout event, you have the opportunity to reinforce and expand your brand awareness within a targeted sector or audience.
Do Your Homework
Before you even step foot on the conference floor or set up your exhibit, you will want to spend at least a couple of hours reviewing the attendee list and session descriptions, identifying who you want to connect with at the event and where they will most likely be during the event. Even if the conference doesn’t supply an attendee list, many that are hosted by associations will provide their member lists for a nominal fee. You can market your presence at the show ahead of time by emailing your target audience.
Attend the Educational Sessions
Many accountants who attend industry conferences focus on networking and branding. But the goal should also be to build industry knowledge beyond accounting. You can quickly identify industry trends by skimming the educational session descriptions. By attending those sessions, you will walk away with valuable insights that you can use to open conversations with clients and prospects. An added benefit is that by attending the sessions, you will identify potential topics for future speaking opportunities that will reinforce your image as a thought leader.
Send the Right People
If a conference is local or low-cost, it can be the perfect opportunity to educate younger staff. They can shadow partners who attend and begin to build their industry knowledge and networks. In some cases, younger staff may be the perfect attendees to write about what they learned at a conference, which can then be shared through social media or firm newsletters. An added benefit is that clients and prospects want service providers who understand their industry—a great differentiator for your firm is staff that is already up-to-speed on the industry trends affecting a client’s business.
A common measure of return on investment for conferences and sponsorships is the number of qualified leads collected. Be sure to act on any cards collected or contacts made at conferences through a strategic marketing campaign and follow-up correspondence. It is easy to miss this last step, particularly if you are on the road for any period of time. But, by taking just a few minutes to write a personal email to follow up your conversation, you will increase the likeliness of future conversations and potential new business opportunities or referrals.
Many marketing professionals in the accounting industry are adept at identifying conferences and sponsorship opportunities that can bring the best return to your firm. Be sure to work with your internal or external marketing resources for extra guidance on how to get the most out of your conference season.