Q&A: Joe Saracino, Erwin-Penland CMO

Joe Saracino, CMO of Hill Holliday subsidiary Erwin-Penland, an interactive, direct mail and advertising agency, discusses his new position and the transition from client-side to agency-side marketer.

Direct Marketing News (DMN): You recently joined the agency as CMO? What has been your mission in the first two months?

Joe Saracino (Erwin-Penland): It’s only been about two months, but it feels like it’s been longer because I have a longstanding relationship with Erwin-Penland. When I was with Verizon, we worked with Erwin-Penland as an agency partner for 10 of the 17 years I was there. The early focus is to figure out how to market the agency, which is weird because you’re in the business of building your clients’ brands and not your own. But we’re at a good point to market our brand more than we have in the past.

DMN: Was it difficult to make the jump from client- to agency-side marketing? Why did you make the switch?

Saracino: It wasn’t as difficult to jump as I thought it would be because I knew the players and I’d been to the office hundreds of times. But as many folks as I did know, there were five times as many as I didn’t. I had a personal desire to experience more than one industry. I had spent almost 17 years at Verizon. I still bleed red and black. Personally, I thought I’d like to do more than one thing in my career, so when I was going through the thought process one of the things sitting right in front of me was that I have worked with lots of agencies. That was really interesting to me. Once I decided that, it was about deciding which agency to pursue and where I would be a good fit. The transition has been great. I get all the jokes about switching sides. When I was client side, there were agency people making the jump. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to do the same thing. We’re all in the business of understanding the consumer and deepening relationships with brands. It’s a ton of fun on both sides.

DMN: Is there a focus for how you’ll be marketing the agency?

Saracino: We’ll be marketing to both b-to-b and b-to-c companies. Retail is important. For our marketing, it’s really an awareness issue. We joke that we’re one of the best-kept secrets in the marketing industry. When you’re the best kept secret, that’s a good thing and a bad thing. We want to make sure the secret gets out.

DMN: Why has the secret been kept?

Saracino:The history of the agency is similar to other agencies. We’re small, started by two people in 1986, and built up over time from a few people and one client to big national clients. But the majority of their focus was on servicing existing clients. We grew a lot of our business with existing clients. There was tremendous growth happening with existing clients, but we never did much to let the secret out.

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