One of the biggest complaints I hear from CPAs is a poor return on marketing dollars. The reason these CPA practitioners get poor results is because they don’t understand the difference between good and bad marketing.  Following just one basic principle can help you start on the road to better marketing:  Give up on bad advertising and invest your money in good advertising.

You might be thinking:  I do the same kinds of advertising as all the other CPAs in my market—surely it must be the “good” kind of advertising.  But the worst mistake accountants make in marketing their CPA practices is assuming that because a lot of other practices use a particular kind of advertising, that kind of advertising must produce results.  So, like lemmings, they all keep wasting money on a traditional kind of advertising that really doesn’t produce results.

Are you throwing good advertising dollars into a black hole?

You are, if you spend your advertising budget on institutional ads (also known as image ads).  You know what they look like:  the name of your firm in a tasteful font, a few lines of text or bullet points listing the services you offer, your phone number and address.  We are so surrounded by institutional ads that we might come to think of them as “standard” ads.  They’re in the yellow pages, the newspaper, local newsletters and magazines, and even now on the internet.

Don’t be an advertising lemming!

Just because everyone else takes out institutional ads doesn’t mean you need to do the same.  Sure, you probably want to be in the phone book.  But any money you spend on institutional ads could probably be better spent on direct-response advertising.  A quick comparison of these two kinds of ads should help you to understand why institutional ads are just plain bad marketing, and direct response is just plain good.

What Is an Institutional Ad?

  • Most common form of advertising (unfortunately)
  • Also known as Image Ads
  • Lots of blank white space
  • Ad talks about you and how great you are
  • Doesn’t direct the potential buyer to a buying decision
  • Hopes to build “brand awareness”
  • Most times it is a waste of money

What Is a Direct Response Ad?

  • Ads that asks the prospect to respond directly
  • Focuses on the customer and his or her needs
  • Purpose is to stimulate a phone call, letter or visit.
  • Can be tracked and made accountable

Direct response advertising makes a complete case for the practice and the services it provides. It overcomes sales objections. It answers all major questions. It promises results, backing up the promise with a risk-free, money-back guarantee. Direct response advertising is all about your customer and his or her needs. Its purpose is to stimulate a phone call, letter or a visit. Best of all, unlike an institutional ad, it can be tracked so you can make every dollar you spend on it accountable. This then helps to measure the effectiveness of each ad.

The bottom line is this: Direct response advertising turns prospects into clients, and institutional ads don’t. If you are going to spend money towards marketing your accounting practice, make sure you’ve taken the time to understand “good” marketing techniques.

Salim Omar, CPA is a best selling author, thought leader and mentor for CPA firms. He is considered by many as THE “CPA Practice Coach” because he owns and runs a successful CPA practice so he understands what it takes to create and sustain a thriving firm. To learn how you you can transform your practice, go to