Becoming Fluent in Firm Financials

As marketers, we’re all about proving impact on our firm’s bottom line. But outside of winning and promoting work, many of us don’t have an in-depth knowledge of what goes into keeping our firms profitable. If we’re going to impact the bottom line, shouldn’t we understand how it gets drawn in the first place? Today, we’ll be chatting with Bethany Rustic Smith, FSMPS, CPSM, Director of Business Development for the Cincinnati office of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, about why, when, and how marketers should start becoming fluent in their firm’s financials.

The most powerful thing that you can do to position yourself as a marketing partner within the organization is to understand how your firm makes money.

CQ: In an interview with Scott Brinker for Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, Nick Bell, Sr. Director of Corporate Marketing at Oracle Marketing Cloud states, “Unfortunately, as our recent survey of 500 marketers proved, the need to apply science in addition to art is no longer an option; but it scares the wits out of the majority of marketers. Today we’re required to be equal parts creative, technologist, and financial analyst.” What’s your opinion on why this shift scares some marketers?

BRS: Early in your marketing career, you don’t really focus on it. You’re busy producing proposals, or you’re doing ads, or social media. But in order to be a marketing led firm and help push your firm further ahead and increase revenue,  marketers need to start understanding it. If it’s anyone like me, we didn’t learn it in school and we didn’t have to do it when we were in the early part of our career. Now the expectation is to figure out how to learn it and it’s scary. It’s different. It’s something that you’re not used to doing.

CQ:  At what point in your career do you think it’s important to start taking that jump into the financial world and understanding those things?

BRS: My answer for that NOW is at the beginning of your career. Don’t wait until you’re going for that director-level position and they ask you a question about how you’re going to increase revenue, and you go “uhhhh” because you don’t know. The most powerful thing that you can do to position yourself as a marketing partner within the organization and not just a service that produces what you’re told to produce is to understand how your firm makes money — and how in your job, you can affect that.

CQ: Who can marketers speak to in their company to learn about the financial side of the business? 

BRS: First, I think you should understand how the financial side of your business is structured internally. Then talk to everyone. We had a cost department, a financial manager, and accounting. Starting with the financial manager helped me to understand how we track the overall numbers including gross revenue, net revenue, and the controllable margin and how that was applied. That gave me the big picture. Then I went to the cost department, where they were specifically looking at how they make money on a job site. That actually made it a lot more tangible for me. It really helped me understand how I could help THEM do their job better and therefore keep more money in the organization. So my suggestion would be to find somebody to talk to at all levels of the department. Most of the time, they would love to share insight with anyone that asks. Because typically, people don’t ask.

CQ: What should marketers understand about fees and how they are put together?

BRS: First, you need to understand what that really means. My guess would be it means something different in every firm. It could even be different for every office in the same company. For me, it was important to understand the difference between fee and total cost of services, and then to understand what the client is getting for those amounts. Is it at risk? Is it as agent? Is it design-build? All of them will be different because it’s a different level of service the client is receiving. We also need to understand the break even. Where are you going to make money? Being able to be at the table and offer intelligent and appropriate suggestions on how the firm could better serve the client, or lead discussions of the group, will increase your value as a team member.

CQ: What challenges or road blocks should people look out for when trying to educate themselves

BRS: There are internal roadblocks and external roadblock. And when I say internal, I mean within myself. I lacked confidence in my ability to understand the financial part. You’ve got to get past that. Don’t self-doubt.

From an external standpoint, some of the roadblocks I ran into were people questioning, “Why do you need to know that? You’re marketing, why do you care?” I had a supervisor tell me once that I didn’t need to worry about it. And I said, “Yes I do need to worry about it. I’m an employee of this company and we should all be concerned with making this company a profitable organization. So I need to understand how I can play a role in that.” Every employee in the company needs to be worried about making the company profitable. When he understood that’s where I was coming from, he was supportive. Most of the time, overcoming people wondering why I wanted to know was as easy as saying, “Because I want to know how I can be a more valuable employee.”

CQ: What do marketers need to understand about their role in maintaining the financial health of their firm?

BRS: You need to understand how you can affect it and then you need to have that in mind with everything you do. I actually have a poster in my office that says GROW REVENUE right above my desk. I keep it there as a reminder that if I’m going to pitch a new PR plan, or I’m going to work on updating our website, or social media or blogging — the underlying issue is to grow revenue. So keep it top of mind. I think that when your financial manager or CFO understands that you have that in mind, it gives them a different view of you and it gives you a seat at the table. And that’s what we’re after.


Want to hear more from Bethany? Listen to the full podcast for the full story on what inspired Bethany to dig into firm financials and how it’s changed the way she was perceived by leadership.

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

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ABOUT Bethany

Bethany Rustic Smith

Bethany Rustic Smith, FSMPS, CPSM, is currently the Director of Business Development for the Cincinnati office of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. Prior to joining Taft, Bethany served as Regional Marketing Manager for Turner Construction Company in Cincinnati, OH.

Bethany is a Past President of the local chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), as well as serving as past-chair for the National Certification Committee, and is the 2016 co-chair for Build Business, SMPS’s National Conference. She received her Certified Professional Services Marketer designation in April of 2005 and is a graduate of the Cincinnati USA Chamber We Lead Class 3.

In 2009, Bethany was named Marketer of the Year by the Cincinnati Chapter of SMPS, and in 2010 was honored as one of Cincinnati’s Finest Young Professionals by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In 2011, Bethany was a Next Generation Leader Award finalist with LEGACY Northern Kentucky. In May 2013, Bethany was named one of 4 SMPS Greater Cincinnati Trailblazers, for lifetime achievement in the AEC industry and outstanding commitment to the Chapter, and in August of 2013 was named one of the Cincinnati Business Courier Forty Under 40. In July 2014, Bethany was named Fellow of the Society for Marketing Professional Services.

Have questions or want to chat more with Bethany? Post your comments below or connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Join us Thursday on the podcast when we catch back up with Bethany about her career and the lesson she learned about what it means to be a good manager.

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.


Next week, we’ll welcome Jennifer Newman, CPSM, CEO at Ignite Coaching & Consulting, LLC to talk with about planning events with ummph.

Photo credit: Vince_Ander via / CC BY