The ‘Profenster’ Tells All

NEW YORK A former network exec and producer for Fox and Disney, Chet Fenster joined MEC Entertainment as managing partner in January 2006. His charge: to lead Mediaedge:cia into original content creation.

Since then, he has produced projects such as the 2007 Golden Globes Special, an exclusive online red carpet show for the awards, and the acclaimed Band in a Bubble with Dr Pepper.

He is currently working on a branded entertainment online miniseries for young adults. Fenster talks about the challenges of the industry, new media and what he has learned along the way.

Q: What attracted you to this side of the business?
A: I saw the business moving in this direction. While I was at the Fuse network, I was being called in to meet with advertisers to talk about what we could do for them. We were challenged by budgets. So, when Peter Tortorici called me to come and join, I was attracted by the prospect of working in an environment that could benefit both the brands and the networks.

What have you learned as a producer and director that you have brought to this job?
I think for me, it’s being able to evaluate creative ideas and make sure they have an appeal to the audience. When looking at a client’s marketing objective, it’s about determining what is going to translate into a successful campaign.

What has been your greatest challenge since joining MEC?
Clients right from the beginning think that everything is very expensive. So, the greatest challenge has been helping advertisers overcome the fear that what we do is expensive. It doesn’t have to be. It’s scalable and there are different projects and different price ranges for every client.

And your greatest success?
“Band in a Bubble,” because of what we were able to accomplish in creating something that was multi-platform, breaking new ground with MTV, creating a property for the client that reached consumers on TV, online and on mobile. That was a very rich, holistic approach.

Are many clients willing to devote the resources necessary to a large-scale, nontraditional project like “Band in a Bubble”?
I think as more clients see the work out there, not just our work, but the work that other agencies are doing, they start to see the possibilities. For us, we know that there is no one size fits all; there is no one creative solution that fits all. So, in tailoring programs for the client, that’s how you win them over.

What kind of metrics did you use to measure the success of “Band in a Bubble”?
I have this joke that we use a matrix of metrics. It’s everything from brand awareness to sales, impressions, ratings, interactivity. There are so many things that we could look at to see what worked.

At MEC, how many of the programs do you produce as opposed to outsource?
We produce everything. We sometimes call ourselves a virtual studio. We don’t have a full complement of producers on staff to handle the needs for each project, but we bring in different craftsmen as partners to execute with us.

Of the emerging media, which excite you the most as a way to present branded content?
Mobile excites me because of its portability and because it’s personal. And the Internet and IPTV excite me because the barriers to distribution have been broken down and everybody has access to your content.

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?
Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel worldwide. He taught me many things I didn’t even realize I had learned until years later. I learned to work with a very strategic, downfield approach. I gained an understanding of how all of the pieces of the organization fit together. That has benefited me here in understanding the interconnectedness of a large media company.

Who has influenced you most creatively?
When I was in college, I took a class with Manny Azenberg, who is a famous Broadway producer. He was a strong advocate of “Follow your passion.” But it wasn’t about personal passion, it was about choosing material. He never produces a play that he knows will be a hit but he doesn’t believe in. That’s something that has always stuck with me creatively. He told us that he’s lost out on certain things because of it, but in life, I think that’s a really great rule. When we sit around and think of ideas for clients, we really want to ensure that everybody is passionate about what’s being discussed. You have to believe in your creative choices.

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out in the business?
See everything. You can never know too much. So, just consume media. That’s what’s most important.

Why are you called Profenster?
The people on my team call me that because I like to use the whiteboard a lot. And I like to explain things. I think it’s also because I’m really interested in the history of television, so I can speak to them about where things have originated. They like to see if they can stump me on media questions—I don’t profess to know it all. They’ve told me I should teach at NYU. I don’t know if it’s a compliment or if it’s an excuse to get me out of the office earlier.

Where do you get your inspiration?
It’s not one thing. I’m inspired by the variety and diversity of things that I read and see and by the people I meet. You get it from everything that surrounds you. I think that’s so important for anybody who has a creative endeavor.

When it comes to the work that you do, what are you most passionate about?
What’s exciting to me, and we saw it with “Band in a Bubble,” is seeing consumers talking about or interacting with your brands. In “Band in a Bubble,” we could actually see this happening at the concert. There were kids snapping pictures with their phones and standing in front of signs with Dr Pepper, drinking it and talking about it and, later, blogging about it. That’s very exciting to me. To see it all come to life and to see it touch the consumer, that’s what is amazing to me about this job.

Professionally, what’s your greatest achievement to date?
I don’t know if I’d say it’s my greatest achievement, but it’s something that has been most personally satisfying: my first movie, A Season on the Brink, for ESPN. It was really exciting to be able to take something from scratch. I had optioned the book, developed it and sold it to the network. To see it all the way through to fruition when so many things don’t happen in Hollywood was just a great personal achievement for me.

How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?
Integration within the agency. I can’t stress how important that is. When we work for a client, we’re not doing it on our own in a silo. We work with the account teams, with the other implementation groups—whether that’s print, retail or national broadcast. So, when we look at a client’s business, we’re offering a solution set that’s complemented by all of the others. I think that’s our biggest differentiating factor.

You spend a lot of time on both coasts for your job. What does each provide you professionally and personally?
New York and L.A. is a yin-yang. You get the best of both. I think that professionally, the creative programming business is in Los Angeles. It’s where the majority of network decisions get made and where a lot of the talent resides. It’s almost like having a dual citizenship because the advertising world is so important and it’s critical to have that link. But, the creative community is in Los Angeles.

Give me three words to describe you.
Passionate, enthusiastic, unpredictable—in a good way.

How about three words that describe how others perceive you?
Hardworking, considerate, gracious.