Steven Picanza

Following is the third in a series of monthly posts titled, “10 Agency New Business Questions,” in which we ask individuals who’ve found success heading new business at their respective agencies 10 questions regarding their new business strategy and experience.

In this post, we asked Steven Picanza from the EFM Agency in San Diego, CA to answer our “10 Agency New Business Questions.”

EFM Agency

EFM a marketing services agency that combines technology, strategy and creative to build relevant, measurable consumer experiences.

They grow brand influence with next generation content and design that helps acquire and retain a sustainable, ROI-rich customer base.

EFM is also a leader in online technology, creative problem-solving and digital branding and has partnered with some of the most respected companies in the nation—including The Mirage Hotel & Casino, Siemens, GE, Sony and The Active Network.

Steven Picanza is a Marketing + Brand Strategist at Experiences for Mankind (EFM), a full-service agency headquartered in San Diego, CA. Born and raised in New York, Steven, leads the new breed of business professionals with his work ethic and creative passion to see through the white-noise of the modern marketplace.

Be on the look out for his latest book, “The Creative Hustler”, which is set to be released in 2014. His expertise is within brand strategy, business and agency development, entrepreneurship, as well as experiential ideation.

You can follow Steven on Twitter at @Picanza.

Steven Picanza

1. How long have you been leading/involved in the new business strategy at EFM?

I have been with EFM for about a year and a half now.

My role at the agency is what I like to call the “new business breed”, a combination of business development, client & brand strategy, as well as marketing.

2. Was your background in agency new business prior to joining EFM?

I have been involved with new business at the agency level for about 6 years, mostly working at smaller shops.

Before that, in my musician days, I was booking gigs, marketing bands that I played in as well as being the face of them in the “scene.”

All of which constituted business development.

3. How is new business structured at your agency, in regards to a solo or team configuration and staff numbers dedicated to new business?

EFM is different than any other agency I have been involved with.

We are taking an approach that puts marketing first, with the idea that marketing should drive sales, not the other way around.

This allows us to put our own brand ahead of even client work sometimes to ensure that we are positioning ourselves as thought leaders, industry trendsetters, and to ensure that we are constantly in a state of “BD”.

Currently we are in the process of a re-branding for the agency. We are planning to launch our new name + brand as well as the story / mantra we live by in early 2014.

4. In terms of strategy, how have you found success-through a specific niche/specialty or a more horizontal approach based on service specialty, and why?

In my career, I’ve worked with agencies that focused on a specific niche or market, and yes, this is a good course of action for those firms that truly specialize in 1 or 2 specialties, but for us, it is more about partnering with a brand that truly wants to put the experience first and change culture from the inside out.

This approach allows us to be selective. We will NOT sacrifice our integrity for the almighty dollar.

As a BD guy, I have a hard time turning clients down, but I have turned more clients down this past year than we have taken on. Taking this approach allows us to know the types of industry and companies we want to work with, thus creating our “niche”.

5. Which do you find more successful for your program-inbound, outbound or a blend of both, and why?

In the agency we always recommend the most holistic mix possible to reach audiences for our clients.

The same is true for our marketing program.

It is a healthy combination of all of the above, but what seems to work the best for us is the power of the almighty relationship.

Striving to be authentic in all that we do builds our reputation among our clients and their relationships.

6. Which channel do you find most successful in winning new business: social, direct mail, phone, email/email campaigns or referrals? Feel free to pick more than one, and why?

Like stated before, we are blessed with a great referral pipeline.

We tend to focus our outbound marketing with just that, agency marketing.

We personally live our brand and all that it touches; ensuring that touch is made for a reason.

This is positioning ourselves as thought-leaders and industry trendsetters. In turn, being known in the industry as powerhouse of a shop with great clients and even better talent.

7. Which social media platform is most effective for you in terms of new business, and why?

I am a big fan of Linkedin, and for obvious reasons.

Being the most professional of the social networks, Linkedin allows me to scope competition, new leads, as well as get a better feel for certain industries.

Combined with Twitter, my second favorite social network, I am able to leverage the mentality of being a “social opportunist” to infiltrate industries and/or companies I wouldn’t have had the opportunity without.

But with all this talk on social networking, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, a handshake, and a drink with a potential client.

This is where all the researching you did on their social networks can really help you close the deal.

10 agency new business questions

8. If you could point to one main indicator of success, what would it be?

Success varies from person to person, agency to agency.

Some people are in it for the money and the “high” that comes from the sale.

This is not how I operate.

To me, a salesman who only cares about their wallet and the quantity of clients they bring through the door is an old-school approach.

When I think of that mentality, I have visions of Gordon Gecko and pleated slacks.

 That’s not me.

And that’s not what I represent.

Some can call it the new business breed (I do), but I’m here to build.

I want to build an agency, an industry, and a business that’s sustainable.

Looking at it from 50,000 ft, success is really failing and knowing the right moves to ensure you learn from your failures.

This allows you to know when you are actually on the verge of success. Success isn’t a paycheck, a new client, or a business proposition.

Those are all material items that can come quick and leave even quicker. Maya Angelou writes, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” AGREED!

9. Why do you think it’s so difficult for agencies to run successful new business programs on their own?

It’s a straight-up grind.

I think most agencies don’t understand all the nuances that accompany a new business program.

Having just a “salesman” selling your services is, to me, the wrong way to approach it.

This person needs to understand the agency, the culture, and the industry.

This person needs to have a marketing approach first, and a “closer” mentality last.

It isn’t so much about selling as it is about looking for opportunities, creating relationships, seizing those opportunities, building those relationships, and then servicing your partners (notice I didn’t say clients, because we don’t want clients, we want partners that we can grow with).

It also comes down to strategy and consistency. I feel that with most agencies, once the client has been courted and has landed, prospecting and marketing stops.

Then if for some reason that client leaves, the agency is forced to go into emergency mode to recoup a similar client to keep the doors open and lights on.

If at all times, the agency is marketing itself as a thought leader and understands that at any moment, the landscape can change, the agency can prepare for a “worst case scenario.”

10. If you could give one piece of advice to a mid-to-small size agency looking to kick a new business effort into gear, what would it be?

Hire a marketing-savvy person who isn’t afraid of speaking, writing, and hustling.

At the end of the day, it’s those who hustle the hardest and smartest who actually make a difference. My upcoming book, “The Creative Hustler” has a few points that I think can transform a lot of small/mid-size agencies new business program:

A. Stop being competitive, and start being creative
B. Creativity starts with honesty: Be authentic with all that you do
C. Build your brand by building relationships
D. Stay focused on what’s important
E. Don’t face adversity alone
F. Define your processes, then re-define them
G. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple (stupid/sharable) or in my case; Steven.

Thanks to Steven for taking the time to answer our questions.

I like his new business philosophy that marketing should drive sales, in terms of  EFM positioning themselves as thought leaders and constantly in a state of “BD”.

And we’ve spoken recently on this blog about the importance of saying “no” when the prospective client isn’t right although, as Steven pointed out, it’s not easy.

And finally, love Steven’s use of the term “Social Opportunist,” I’ll be stealing it.

In all seriousness-his philosophy of balancing social with nothing beating a face-to-face meeting is one we can subscribe to.

Oh, and you’ll apparently never see him wearing pleated pants-let’s hold him to that.

I'm the VP of Sales at RSW/US. We specialize in working with services firms to help drive and close new business-if you need help with that, email me at What I actually do: drive sales efforts to bring ad agencies and services firms on board with RSW, create content around successful new business tactics and help drive RSW/US marketing objectives, including social media channels, blog content, webinars, video and speaking engagements. Dig it.