Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 32 seconds

As a society, we tend to remember media coverage of negative events rather than the positive ones. That’s why the world still likes reality shows; these forums accentuate the sensational side of the human condition rather than the intellectual and informational component.

Public relations for the accounting profession is a lot like reality TV; the mainstream media will only cover something if the matter involves a crime, major merger of large firms or some other topic for the public consumption. After all, who wants to hear how a firm in Anywhere, USA, works with clients to lower their tax liability?

It’s not out of the ordinary for a firm to want to spend time on public relations; the problem is that most firms have idea where to start and have much-too high expectations on what PR can produce. Some firms even believe PR is just like marketing, so producing a firm capabilities brochure is PR, right? Wrong.

PR is all about improving your image and reputation, but even Sister Theresa’s image couldn’t be improved overnight. It takes time to get results, along with an investment in time and resources.

Ninety percent of PR is preparation. The easy part is placing the story; the hard part is preparing for the story. Chances are, in the lifecycle of your business, there will be some kind of problem, and that problem will lead the media to your doorstep.

A large firm might suffer from a sexual harassment suit; a small firm might endure the wrath of a client who wasn’t properly prepared to deal with the IRS. Any size firm might suffer from a natural or man-made disaster.

If you’re a CPA working in business and industry, the possibilities are endless. Think “Enron.” This may seem like an extreme example, but what would happen if you were the CFO, and your CEO was accused of embezzlement or insider trading? All of a sudden, you’re in the hot seat, so the best way you can prepare for something like this happening is to do just that – be prepared.

Just as you would create a proactive disaster recovery plan, you also can create a proactive PR plan to handle the media when they appear on your doorstep. The way to do this is to write a document that covers as many “what if” situations as possible, then provide “action” steps for each situation.

Point the media to a designated spokesperson for your firm or company, distribute background information you can share with the media and provide other materials that shows you did the homework. The media will appreciate your stance, and while they certainly won’t back off of the problem, they may treat you a bit more kindly.

Designate a spokesperson – the person who is going to respond to media inquiries.  training is essential. If you think your firm is too small to think about this, think again.  Most of the time, the designated person to speak on behalf of the company is the CEO or president, but more often than not, this person isn’t trained to answer the kinds of questions reporters ask when they are working on a story.

Formal spokesperson training is typically held over the course of one to two days, with tough questions asked in mock interviews that are taped for review and learning. I’ve neither conducted nor participated in a spokesperson training in which the attendees didn’t walk out feeling smarter and empowered. This includes anyone who walks in at the beginning of training who says he did not need to attend because the person already knew how to himself.

Spokesperson training may be necessary for the smaller firm, but being prepared to answer the tough questions is mandatory. It doesn’t matter if you work in business or an accounting practice; preparation is key. A tragedy could occur within a firm that causes the media to ask questions. Although your firm isn’t on the scale of a large corporation, it is a viable entity that could suffer huge problems if its reputation were at stake.

Part of your PR plan should include your internal audiences, stakeholders or anyone else connected to the company, including clients and customers. If a tragedy occurred, you need to communicate immediately to all your audiences, and you can only do this if you are prepared to act within a very short amount of time.

Every situation varies, so there is no one cookie-cutter solution to what you’re going to communicate. However, the more information you can impart without legal repercussions, the better off you’ll be because you were able to tell you audiences what they want to hear: an honest take on the situation and how you’re going to solve it.

Taking time now to write this plan not only saves you hours and hours of work later on; it gives you that precious proactive ability to stay a step ahead of the media and keep your internal audiences informed.


Scott Cytron

Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is a frequent contributor to industry publications covering professional services’ industries, including accounting, healthcare, financial planning, collections and debt, and high-tech. He works with many CPA firms and organizations to increase their recruitment and retention efforts through public relations, communications and marketing strategies. Contact him at [email protected] and read his blog at www.absolutecytron.com.

Last modified on Monday, 15 December 2014
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