NEW YORK: After nearly 33 years as CEO of his eponymous firm, David Fenton has sold the agency and appointed a new chief exec, as he shifts to the role of chairman, effective immediately.
Former Billboard editorial director Bill Werde has taken the reins at Fenton as the new CEO. Werde most recently worked on new business opportunities at Guggenheim Digital, which oversees Billboard, Adweek, and The Hollywood Reporter.
Fenton said he was introduced to Werde through a mutual friend who knew that he was looking for someone with the same passions around sustainability and cause-related issues to lead his agency.
"It didn’t seem like an obvious choice to me," explained Fenton, "but the more I got to know [Werde], I realized he’s a real leader, a great manager, and a digital and a social media pioneer."
Werde said his own personal strategic mission is to take the skills and experiences he’s acquired throughout his career to "create the greatest possible positive impact in the world," and he’s looking forward to having the opportunity to do that at Fenton.
"If people think about excellent communications and creative work for change organizations, I want Fenton to remain synonymous with the best," added Werde.
Fenton sold the agency to two new owners, Craig Leach, CEO of Graham-Pelton, and James Marcus, director at Graham-Pelton Consulting and former head of Fenton Studios. With the buyout, Fenton has joined Collegium, a network of cause-related agencies, which Leach and Marcus launched about nine months ago.
Other firms in the Collegium holding company include Graham-Pelton Consulting, Graham-Pelton UK, Meitler, and J. Donovan Associates.
Fenton said that joining Collegium is beneficial for the firm because "it’s a way of getting bigger without losing our soul."
The new owners will act in a "keeper of the torch" role for Fenton, where they will focus on making sure the firm’s values continue to be upheld, added Marcus.
"My role is to try and help preserve everything that is so special about Fenton," he explained, "but also help it evolve and keep moving forward so that when someone looks back 30 years from now, they’ll say Fenton was way ahead and on the right side of the challenges and societal issues."
The agency will continue to keep its brand name despite the ownership and leadership change. While David Fenton no longer holds any shares of the firm, he will remain very active on client work and plans to stay for at least five more years, he said.
"I want to work on climate change communications primarily," he explained. "It is the greatest communications challenge of our time, and we are not doing things fastest enough to meet that challenge."
Fenton, which was founded in 1982, has annual revenue of about $10 million, and about 60 staffers across its New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco offices.