In naming Mr. Fenske creative director and managing partner, the venerable, 126-year-old New York agency has reached as far away from itself in character as it has in distance.
"We wanted someone who will give us a new way of doing things," said Mary Lou Quinlan, CEO and managing partner.
The Bomb Factory is a free-lance creative and production agency in Venice, Calif. Mr. Fenske, 41, has also worked at big and small ad agencies, including two years at Young & Rubicam in New York, but he will bring a decidedly different perspective to Ayer.
Whereas Ayer's reputation is for warm-and-fuzzy, traditional-values advertising, Mr. Fenske's reel looks more like an MTV video montage. In fact, his reel includes a Van Halen video that won MTV's 1992 Video of the Year award.
But different is something Ayer needs right now, its luster having been tarnished by the recent loss of 57-year client DeBeers Consolidated Mines and turmoil in its management ranks.
"We're looking for him to establish a culture in the creative department," Ms. Quinlan said. "We need to bring a new dimension into the agency."
Mr. Fenske's irreverence appears to already be rubbing off on Ms. Quinlan and Ayer's other managing partner, Martyn Straw. When asked why they chose Mr. Fenske, they broke into laughter and said they thought he was an ex-race-car driver named Penske.
Similarly, when Mr. Fenske was asked what about him impressed his new partners, he said, "I think it was the backward somersault I did to get out of the back seat of the car."
In a more serious vein, Mr. Fenske said he decided to join Ayer because it's "time for me to grow up. Take a stand. Play on the big stage. This is a place and a part that feel good. Come back in a year and see what we've done. Then come back in five years and see what we've done. That's what counts."
Mr. Straw cited several serious reasons for the choice. First, he noted Mr. Fenske's creativity, pointing to his MTV award and others he has collected. Mr. Fenske has also directed four Coca-Cola Co. spots for Creative Artists Agency.
Ayer will pay handsomely for Mr. Fenske's style of creativity. Sources say the headhunter who was marketing the job used $750,000 as an opening salary figure. Ms. Quinlan said that figure was wildly inaccurate, while adding, "Not that he doesn't deserve it."
Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to this story.
EDUCATION: B.A. in English, Michigan State University
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Started the Bomb Factory, Venice, Calif., 1990; served as visiting creative director for Cole & Weber, Seattle, 1991-92; instructor at the Pasadena Art Center since 1989; creative director and managing partner, N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York, present.