VSA Appoints New York Times Vet Max Pfennighaus as ECD

By Erik Oster 

VSA Partners appointed Max Pfennighaus as executive creative director in its New York office. Pfennighaus will oversee creative teams in both New York and Chicago, focusing on developing creative and digital corporate communications and marketing programs for the agency’s IBM account.

Pfennighaus isn’t quite like most agency creatives: he joins VSA from The New York Times, where he led the publication’s 50-person creative department as executive creative director beginning in September 2014. During his tenure with The New York Times, Pfennighaus coordinated the brand creative for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times cooking app and the launch of the Times on the AppleWatch, while also helping to push the publication’s number of digital subscribers past the one million mark.

He also gained notoriety among media types for his Twitter rants, some of which described the publication’s struggle to remain relevant in the digital landscape as its “grandpa in a nightclub” problem.

Before joining the Grey Lady, Pfennighaus spent four years at NPR, joining as lead interaction designer in December of 2010 before being named director of marketing and branding two and a half years later. That followed two years as a creative director with ISM, working with clients including American Express, Best Western, Emirates Airlines and Four Seasons and a year and a half as associate creative director with Digital Influence Group , working with clients such as IBM, HBO, T-Mobile, Tufts University and Cook Medical. He also spent over five years as a senior art director with Arnold Worldwide, working with brands such as Boy Scouts of America, ESPN, Volkswagen, Volvo, Gillette, Southern Comfort and Royal Caribbean.

“Max has managed and influenced brands that have a strong focus on digital activation and migration, which is an important part of our business at VSA and for most of our clients, such as IBM,” said VSA partner and design practice lead Claudine Litman.  “Plus, Max has a diverse background working on the agency side and client side, which adds a valuable perspective to how we approach our work.”

“A lot of organizations I’ve worked with have excelled either at tactical design or strategic design thinking—it’s rare to find a company that can do both well,” added Pfennighaus. “I’m excited to be working with a team that approaches client challenges using both hemispheres of the brain.”