At Hinge we have been studying Visible Experts℠, people who have attained high visibility and expertise in their industry, creating a personal brand that is recognizable industry-wide. We study them because we want to understand how they attained that status and what we can learn from them. This profile focuses on Rick Telberg, a Visible Expert for the accounting and finance industry.
Keeping Pace with Change
Rick Telberg, President and CEO of CPA Trendlines, was introduced to the accounting industry more than 20 years ago when he helped launch Accounting Today magazine as Editor. Although his background was in journalism, he quickly became fascinated by his new industry. “There’s an interesting tension in finance between the forces of integrity and the forces of business,” Rick says. “It makes for a natural storyline.” He immersed himself in the world of financial media and never looked back.
As Accounting Today grew, Rick’s responsibilities also expanded. He took on the roles of Vice President and Group Publisher for Thomson Financial’s accounting media properties, including Accounting Technology, The Practical Accountant, and what is now accountingtoday.com.
Already a pioneer of digital publishing when the Internet boom hit in the early 2000s, Rick became one of the first to harness online media and marketing for his sector. Now, he says, “the accounting industry is still learning how to adapt to the online marketplace. But we need to remember that competition is what drives change, not technology itself. Who is using it best, first, and most effectively? The marketplace will notice that, perceive the threat, and only then will change occur.”
In 2001, Rick was recruited by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to be the first Editorial Director of their startup, CPA2Biz, the institute’s marketing arm. There, he launched an online publishing operation that grew to a circulation of over 1 million, while pioneering new social media, digital marketing, and online publishing strategies.
Forging His Own Way
By 2004, Rick had founded his own consulting business, Bay Street Group, LLC, helping accounting firms and vendors leverage their intellectual assets and develop new business opportunities and revenue streams. CPA2Biz, AICPA, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Blackberry were among his earliest clients.
Rick’s expertise in financial media came into play when he realized that Bay Street Group would benefit from a media wing through which to channel some of its research findings and analysis. So he launched CPA Trendlines, which delivers cutting-edge investigations, trends, and industry news to the tax, accounting, and finance industry. According to Rick, CPA Trendlines “started as an online delivery system for Bay Street Group,” before rapidly taking on a life of its own. “We had become experts on the dynamics of this industry,” Rick says. “We had more knowledge than we knew what to do with. So we found a way to deliver that.”
Unencumbered by the constraints of print media, CPA Trendlines is highly flexible and adaptable. “We have no legacy infrastructure, and no print branch,” Rick says. “So we’re free to innovate from scratch.”
The Power of Specializing
Although delivering content is the focus of his organization, Rick founded CPA Trendlines around a marketplace need, not around the product. “Many people have it upside down,” Rick says. “They think it starts with content. But it actually starts with unique services, narrowly defined. Once you have something special and unique, then you can think about content marketing.”
Rick believes it was specialization that allowed his media group to emerge as an industry powerhouse. With a background in both print and online journalism and a deep insight into the accounting and finance world, he was the perfect person to capitalize on the digital media revolution. And while other firms faltered during the banking crisis of 2007, Rick seized the opportunity to differentiate. Rick says, “The CPA Trendlines brand gained traction in 2006-2008 as the finance industry struggled through the banking crisis. Professionals needed real-time business information to respond to their fast-changing world, and we were able to fill that need.” He saw a gap that no one else was filling, and he answered the demand.
Becoming a Visible Expert
To keep up with customer demand and to stay visible and relevant, Rick delivers keynotes or webinars for 20-30 industry events per year. He is also branching out from digital publishing, with CPA Trendlines now offering print versions of a number of their books and reports. Again, the decision about the channel of media offering is customer driven. First, Rick and his team figure out what offerings their clients need, and then they determine the best form to deliver it.
As CEO and President of both Bay Street Group and CPA Trendlines, Rick is utterly focused on building his brands and helping his clients. In the process, he has become nationally renowned as a strategy guru in the accounting and tax world. Today, CPA Trendlines has over 53,000 followers on LinkedIn—where they have been rated as one of the top 150 industry influencers—and over 16,000 followers on Twitter, where Rick’s photo and name accompanies his firm’s status updates.
The key to becoming highly visible is “to be ubiquitous,” says Rick. “You have to be everywhere the customer is looking. So if your customer is looking online, you have to be there. You don’t really have a choice—the customer drives that decision.”
To find out more on becoming a Visible Expert in your industry, check out our book, The Visible Expert.