After Crunching the Numbers, CPAs Ready DM Campaign

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The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has committed $25 million for its first direct and Internet marketing campaign aimed at attracting youth to the CPA profession.


Breaking this fall, the campaign by New York-based Wunderman will target young people ages 16 to 22. The agency competed with four undisclosed shops to get the five-year contract.


"We've detected a falloff in the number of young people who've chosen to become CPAs," said Geoffrey Pickard, vice president of communications and public relations at the AICPA, New York. "When we've gone out and asked students, they don't know what CPAs do. The profession is very broad. Not only do we want to reach this target audience, but help to explain to young people at a time when they're choosing their career path that becoming a CPA offers an opportunity to work in a whole range of businesses."


According to the AICPA, only 1 of 100 high school students interviewed are considering an accounting major in college. In another worrying statistic, the percentage of college students majoring in accounting has dropped from 4 percent in 1990 to 2 percent in 2000.


Though the strategy and tactics are still being devised, Wunderman expects to use e-mail marketing, banners, online promotions and sponsorships, direct mail, face-to-face meetings, school guidance counselors and institutional outreach.


"The challenge is, how do you get the next generation into the fold?" said David Sable, president/CEO of Wunderman's New York office. "It's not just about acquisition and retention, but it's almost life-stage marketing. It's how do you identify [potential CPAs] kind of early enough in the process and interest them and follow them through the course of their education."


Research by the AICPA found that young people about to graduate from high school or in college often are not aware that CPAs fill a variety of job titles. The AICPA has already tried to create awareness through the organization's Web site, aicpa.org, which includes a section on student affiliate membership. Eligibility is restricted to college and graduate school students.


The direct effort will run alongside another ad campaign already under way, albeit for a different audience. A print, television and radio advertising campaign by Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston seeks to convince a range of audiences to buy CPA services.


Wunderman's appointment is the first time the AICPA has named a direct agency to handle marketing. Part of WPP Group PLC's Young & Rubicam advertising agency, Wunderman is one of the largest direct marketing agencies in the United States. It was formerly known as Impiric.


The 50 state CPA societies are expected to chip in with idea generation and implementation of the Wunderman campaign. Pickard hopes this collaboration and a dedicated direct effort will increase the payoff for the AICPA.


"Historically we've been running campaigns to reach students at high school and college level by sending printed materials and CD-ROMs to teachers and guidance counselors for passing on to students," Pickard said. "While that has been happening, it hasn't been working to the degree the profession wanted."


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