In the 1960s when the advertising of accountancy services was considered vulgar and not permitted by the Society, and well before the advent of the internet, how did accountants manage their public image?
In full knowledge of the dreary and backward reputation the accountancy profession suffered, the then Society set about to change it.
In a 1961 Journal, Mr AW Graham, who was the Secretary of the Society at that time, proffered his thoughts on the subject.
“Within recent years, along with other community groups, the accountancy profession has accorded increasing importance to the development of better public relations with the community it serves. Indeed the profession realises that it has suffered more than most groups through the persistence of outdated concepts in the mind of the public of the accountant and his function.”
He believed that the only way in which these misconceptions could be dispelled was through a conscious effort to present a more accurate picture of the profession’s role.
“Since its formation in 1957, the Society’s Public Relations Committee has devoted much time and thought to means of improving the public relations of the profession and much has been accomplished...”
However, there was a limit to what could be accomplished in that manner, he wrote. “After four years of concentrating on this type of activity, the Committee considers that the greatest avenue for further improvement lies in the individual effort of members.
“The public relations of a professional man represents the sum of the impressions held of him by his associates, his clients, and the community. He should never overlook the fact that he practises public relations in every hour of his waking life.”
A difference between individual and collective public relations needed to be recognised.
“Many people have impressions of accountants based on nothing more substantial than a preconceived opinion of an earlier generation – impressions which have been the source of embarrassment to the profession for many years.”
If preconceived fallacious images were to be replaced by impressions based on fact, wrote Graham, the profession as a whole had to work on it.
Publicity, he wrote, is only effective if the facts reported reflect credit on the organisation.
“From time immemorial one of the distinguishing features of a profession has been the acceptance of the concept that individual advertising is incompatible with professional status. In advertising one’s services in a professional sphere one advertises oneself, a process which would be undignified in the extreme...”
The Society, he wrote, was the only channel through which advertising could be done, and the Journal was the main medium for this.
“It is the constant aim of the editorial staff to ensure that this public relations is of positive value to all sections of the profession.”
In addition to the Journal, the Society published brochures on the profession to “assist students to make the most important decision of their lives”. Information circulars on matters of particular interest to the profession and the Society Year Book, were also an invaluable avenues of positive publicity.
Liaison with other groups, such as bankers, schools and the Government was a critical sphere, largely under the responsibility of the Society. Prizes, awards and scholarships encouraged scholarship and initiative within the profession. The “entertainment of distinguished visitors” also played a role in furthering the profession. Public statements on matters of national interest were also possible, albeit only when “exercised with extreme discretion”.
Mr Graham believed the branches of the Society were in a position to explore other avenues of public relations.
The presentation of certificates to new members emphasised the importance of the occasion, as did close and friendly relations with the local press, although“any attempt to exert influence to publicise activities of no news value will do more harm than good”.
Additionally, functions for school leavers, “with an emphasis placed on friendliness and approachability rather than lecturing had produced good results,” wrote Mr Graham.
Public speaking assignments could also be invaluable, although “it was unreasonable to expect a standard comparable with that of our legal colleagues, whose rhetorical powers are stimulated by constant practice in their daily work.”
In general, believed Mr Graham, there needed to be more interest from individuals in the Society’s affairs.
“In recent years, considerable progress has been made in dispelling misconceptions about the profession which were more appropriate to the Dickensian era...”
But change was in the air, wrote Mr Graham. “Accountancy is merely on the threshold of further spectacular development in electronics, in management accounting, and in specialised accounting of all kinds.”
And this, he predicted, would create further problems in public relations for the profession.
November 2013 - Alexandra Johnson