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It's safe to break out the Dom Perignon: Steve Dworin, the most aggressively recruited executive in recent Madison Avenue history, today becomes the ceo of N W Ayer.

But for Mr. Dworin, 40, there's no time to celebrate. His will be the most closely watched transition on Madison Avenue since Charlotte Beers joined Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide as chairman-ceo two years ago.

And like Ms. Beers, Mr. Dworin will be quickly criticized if he doesn't enliven one of the oldest agency brand names. His mandate: Secure current clients and become a new-business rainmaker to the account-parched agency.

Ayer investor Richard Humphreys said Mr. Dworin's compensation-estimated in the high six-figure range-will be tied to his success at the agency and his ability to increase not just revenue but profits.

"His compensation is substantially tied to his performance, as I believe all senior packages in this business should be," Mr. Humphreys said, declining to further discuss Mr. Dworin's contract.

Ayer Chairman Jerry Siano, whose salary is more traditionally based, is expected to relinquish his post to Mr. Dworin next month, at which time Mr. Humphreys may also take an executive title.

A top role is what plenty of other shops were also eager to have Mr. Dworin play since he left Deutsch/Dworin earlier this year. He was courted by New York shops Lintas, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, and Chicago's Tatham Euro RSCG.

Ayer has "had some knocks and tough breaks, but as I looked at other agencies, I saw the role here as one that was more doable," Mr. Dworin said, citing the agency's history and talent base as offering him "a greater chance of success."

It's the agency's recent history, however, that Mr. Dworin is expected to rewrite.

Within a year, Ayer has lost two major accounts-$110 million from AT&T and Sterling Winthrop's $55 million Bayer account. There have also been two failed near-mergers, with Ketchum Advertising and Hal Riney & Partners, both New York.

Billings are now estimated at $780 million.

Mr. Dworin is already off to a fast start: Lechters, the 566-store Harrison, N.J.-based housewares chain, has already awarded Ayer its account as a result of the new executive appointment, the agency said.

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