Ms. Ayres, 43, spent 13 years entertaining crowds, first as a tambourine player and later as a stand-up comedienne. In 1983, she added another gig: a secretary at what was then Needham, Harper & Steers.
Sixteen years later, Ms. Ayres has earned a marquee on the ad world's stage, credited with helping lure such clients as Liz Claiborne, Hasbro and Dial Corp. to sign on with that shop (now DDB Worldwide).
Now, she's taken those talents to TBWA Worldwide, New York, as worldwide marketing director. She's currently working on the global, $50 million-plus Delta Air Lines pitch throughout the agency's network.
Ms. Ayres' show-business skills helped her move up the advertising ranks. She was discovered by DDB CEO Keith Reinhard after she donned an apron and played fish-stick maven Mrs. Pauls for a new-business pitch to the brand's marketer, Campbell Soup Co. Mr. Reinhard was so impressed with her performance that he tapped her to work with him on new business throughout the agency network.
SUPPORT FROM THE TOP
She stayed with the New York agency for 14 years, holding various positions, including director of business development. And Mr. Reinhard not only mentored her at work, he also supported her extracurricular activities. He often showed up with clients to watch her perform at what she called "New York City dives."
"I was fortunate because Keith got a big kick out of it," she said. "He thought my show-biz [background] was a plus."
In 1997, Ms. Ayres was recruited by Mary Lou Quinlan, then CEO of N.W. Ayer & Partners, to be exec VP-marketing director at the MacManus Group shop. She again tapped her show-biz savvy to create the agency's talk show-style research tool, "Just Ask a Woman."
Ms. Ayres and Ms. Quinlan spent the next several years conducting female-focused forums for clients, including Continental Airlines and General Motors Corp.
"We were the Thelma and Louise of women's market research," Ms. Ayres said.
'AN INCREDIBLE ABILITY'
"She has an incredible ability to relate to people," said TBWA Exec VP-Director of Business Development Mike Amour. "She can read an audience extremely fast and communicate clearly based on understanding that audience."
Although she'll spend the bulk of her time on global new business, Ms. Ayres also will work with executives "on the development and articulation of the [TBWA] brand."
To succeed, she's on a whirlwind tour of the network. During her first week, she flew to Paris, London and Los Angeles.
The most recent incarnation of her nightclub comedy act took place nearly three years ago, after she and her husband were persuaded to perform their routine for a crowd of ad executives judging the Andy Awards.
"I'm still a performer. I've just changed costumes," she said of her new agency