AYER SPINS OFF FENSKE AND STRAW;TROUBLED SHOP STUCK AGAIN AS OWNER LOOKS FOR INT'L INVESTORS

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Two of the three managing partners of N.W. Ayer & Partners are leaving the New York agency to form a new creative boutique under Ayer parent Adcom.

Mark Fenske, chief creative officer, and Martyn Straw, chief strategic officer, will open the satellite operation, dubbed the Golden Process. Adcom is controlled by South Korean investor W.Y. Choi.

6 MONTHS AND OUT

The spinoff comes just six months after Ayer hired Mr. Fenske to shake up the agency's staid culture. But he succeeded only in alienating some clients during his short stint, while failing to draw new business.

Mr. Fenske came to Ayer from the Bomb Factory, his own freelance production shop in Venice, Calif. Part of his financial deal with Ayer included Ayer taking a stake in the Bomb Factory, which will now become part of the Golden Process.

The Fenske way of doing things was a flop with some clients, people close to Ayer said. Outspoken and at times intentionally mysterious, Mr. Fenske turned a couple of client meetings into battle zones, they said. And key clients such as Procter & Gamble Co. have had little involvement with Mr. Fenske.

NEW CREATIVE CHIEF SOUGHT

Ayer on Friday said CEO Mary Lou Quinlan-the managing partner who's not leaving-and Mr. Fenske are searching for a new creative director; the post will be filled in the interim by Arthur Meranus, exec VP-creative director on the P&G business.

Mr. Fenske said he's leaving Ayer "to do something different," the same explanation he gave for joining Ayer last fall. "I don't think different can happen within the confines of a traditional agency," he said last week.

Ayer lost the $20 million Pep Boys account late last year and won no business during Mr. Fenske's tenure. Last summer, Ayer lost one of its oldest clients, DeBeers Consolidated Mines.

The agency also has lost two chief executives since 1993.

STUCK IN NEUTRAL

Ayer is now left stuck in neutral at a time when it's looking for investors and seeking an alliance with an international network. Richard Humphreys, a minority owner in Adcom, said Ayer is looking for "an arrangement with an international network."

Executives at other agencies said Mr. Choi would like to sell Ayer and has contacted several potential buyers. Some people said they believe he has talked with the M&C Saatchi Agency, London, but M&C executives said they aren't considering any acquisitions and the deal wouldn't make sense on the surface.

M&C Saatchi isn't flush with cash and P&G would have a hard time blessing such a union after Maurice Saatchi's bitter feud with P&G agency Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising last year.

BUY AYER? `RUBBISH'

"It's rubbish. We're not buying anybody," said M&C Saatchi President Bill Muirhead.

Mr. Muirhead left open the possibility of a joint venture or other type of deal with a U.S. agency. M&C Saatchi has a small New York office but doesn't yet have any U.S. clients.

Another agency mentioned as a possible buyer of Ayer is London's GGT Group. An executive close to GGT said he didn't know of any talks but said GGT is looking for more acquisitions.

On Friday, Ayer Exec VP-Senior Partner Lance Smith was named managing director-New York office and Senior Partner-Director of Development John Bowman was named exec VP-director of research, both new posts.

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