Joe Saracino

In this post, we put forth 10 agency new business questions for Joe Saracino from the Erwin Penland agency in Greenville, South Carolina. Helping create success for the people they touch, Erwin Penland is one of the largest full-service advertising agencies based in the South. With offices in Greenville, S.C., New York and Detroit, the firm offers integrated advertising, strategic planning, media, digital, experiential, direct marketing, design and public relations services to a wide range of clients such as Verizon Wireless, Denny’s, Michelin, General Motors, Sears, ScanSource and Advance America.

Erwin Penland has received numerous awards for marketing effectiveness and creative excellence, and in 2011 was named one of the “Best Places to Work” by Advertising Age. The nearly 400-person firm is a member of The Interpublic Group of Companies (NYSE: IPG).

 Joe Saracino

1.       Joe Saracino, how long have you been leading/involved in the new business strategy at Erwin Penland ?

Just over 2 years.

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

Far from it.  I spent the previous 16 years at Verizon Wireless in various marketing and sales operations roles.

My last five years there were spent reporting to the CMO, running the e-commerce business and running all advertising and marketing communications nationwide.

So I was the guy taking all the calls from all the agency new business people.

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

I am the tip of the spear, if you will, and the spear is made up of 350 plus people across three offices.  All with their own skills and capabilities they add to the spear.

There are technically only 3 employees dedicated on paper to new business, but I think that all 350 are dedicated in spirit.

New business is a different animal, because you have to consider your existing clients first.

A lot of what we do and coordinate the rest of the agency to do happens after hours and on weekends and is difficult, but you have to do it.

You can’t sit still.

You have to grow.

Not just for the sake and success of the business, but for the sake and success of your employees.

They have to be challenged, they require and deserve growth opportunities.

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?  

We don’t believe in service specialty.   People ask me all the time, “what’s your core competency?”

My short answer: “we’re an ad agency.”

To me, real ad agencies excel at many things.

We have always been believers in the integrated approach – being able to fulfill almost any need a client may have.

Many capabilities and disciplines under one roof, working together to solve challenges clients are facing.

We still have media in-house.  We have experiential.  We have digital. We have content marketing.  Video and audio production services.  Shopper marketing.  Promotions. PR.  Research.  Analytics.

We don’t outsource much.

We’re not opposed to it, we just don’t need to that often.

All of that makes it easier for our existing clients to pick up the phone and ask for our help.

We’re more agile than agencies twice our size, and we strive to stay that way.

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

A blend, of course.

You can’t just sit around and wait for the phone to ring, because there are times when it doesn’t.

And you don’t want to ignore the phone when it does ring.

You have to hunt.

You have to keep your eyes open.

You have to know what is going on before you read about it, because most of the time by then it is too late.

But you also have to master balancing your inbound (less predictable) and outbound (slightly more predictable) opportunities.

Sometimes there is just way too much going on at once to do it all and the potential clients justice AND keep performing for your existing clients.

I would rather focus on one thing and get it right as opposed to trying to do everything at once and spread us too thin.

Agency New Business Questions

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?  

We are using social a lot.

Many of these things have worked for us, but we have now essentially abandoned a lot of the older tools for the newer ones.

Except for picking up the phone and meeting with people in person.

Surprisingly, those two things still seem to work really well.

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

Hands down, LinkedIn.

Twitter deserves an honorable mention, but LinkedIn is almost built for this job.

You can research industries, companies, people, networks.

The perfect tool for agency new business, really.

We share a lot of EP thought leadership ideas and POVs on LinkedIn also and I know it is getting to the right targets.

I can do that on Twitter but it is a little more of a shotgun blast on Twitter.

LinkedIn also allows you to connect with the right people so easily.

The search functionality is so powerful.

Twitter has incredible search capabilities also, but due to the way people build their profiles on Twitter, it can be a little more difficult to find what (or who) you are looking for.

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

Knowing that in this role you have to play the long game.

Chasing clients for revenue reasons only will get you nowhere.

Building relationships for lasting successful partnerships is where we put most of our focus.

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

I don’t think it’s that difficult.

I mean, everybody could use a little help and there are several great partners we use for very specific things when we need them.

But we run most of our program on our own because we have been clear with each other as a leadership team on our objectives and on our strategies and tactics we are deploying to help achieve those objectives.

If people are on the same page, it isn’t that difficult.

Where it gets tricky is if people don’t have clarity around their roles.

You also have to have some discipline around what types of new business opportunities make sense for your agency.

Sometimes, strategy is just knowing when to say no.

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?

Act bigger than you are.

Shoot higher than where you think you should be shooting.

Bite off more than you think you can chew.  You will probably find that you can actually chew it.

Our President has a great story about when EP was still very young and he wanted to put a company sign on the outside of the building.

At the time, EP had a very small amount of space in the building.

Several others did not completely support the idea, thinking it was too expensive.

His theory was that it would make them look way bigger than they were and people would take notice, like “what’s going on over there at Erwin Penland?”

Time has proven that to be a great strategy.

Thanks again to Joe Saracino for the interview.

He has that unique perspective of being on the client side for many years previously, and as he says, was the guy taking all the calls from all the agency new business people.

I’ve discussed this previously-agencies shouldn’t feel their new business person has to have an agency background, that client-side perspective can be invaluable.

And indeed, as Joe points out-you have to play the long game when it comes to new business, it won’t happen overnight and you have to embrace that mindset.

Another good point is the importance of clarity around new business roles, which is crucial.

Joe mentions the factors that make new business less difficult (or as Joe says, not difficult) for Erwin Penland-great to see, although I personlly think (and see first hand) that it can be difficult for small to mid-size agencies who just don’t have the manpower.

And finally, an excellent message for those same small to mid-size agencies: Act bigger than you are.


Joe Saracino, is the Chief Marketing Officer at Erwin Penland, one of the largest full-service advertising agencies based in the South.  In the role, Saracino develops and implements the agency’s overall marketing plan for all offices and identifies and secures new business opportunities across the country in a variety of disciplines and vertical industries.

Saracino spent more than 15 years at Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless company in the United States, holding a variety of management positions before becoming the first-ever chief marketing officer for EP.  He has worked with EP throughout its 20-plus-year relationship with Verizon.  

At Verizon, previously served as vice president of marketing communications at the company’s headquarters in New Jersey, where he led brand, advertising, promotions, merchandising, sponsorships and a $1.5 billion national media plan.  Prior to that role, he served as vice president of e-commerce, owning the digital user experience and leading online customer acquisition efforts and customer self-serve initiatives.  

Saracino has also served as vice president of sales and marketing for the South Area of Verizon Wireless where he was responsible for consumer and business sales operations, market planning and marketing support.  Saracino graduated cum laude from Drexel University in his hometown of Philadelphia with a bachelor of science degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing.  He currently lives in Greenville, SC with his wife Cynthia, daughters Grace and Gaby and their five dogs.

You can follow Joe on Twitter at @jsaracino

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.