Communications Agency Fenton's New Leadership Hopes to Bring Artists Back Into Activism

Michael Seto Photography

P!NK and Bill Werde, Editorial Director, Billboard at Billboard's Women in Music at Capitale New York, Dec 10, 2013.

The communications agency Fenton, which specializes in working with non-profits, charities and activist organizations, has announced it is being sold and a new leadership being put in place. The company's founder, David Fenton, is stepping laterally into a position as chairman, from CEO, The New York Times reported yesterday. Replacing him as Chief Executive is former Billboard editorial director Bill Werde, who tells Billboard he plans on utilizing the connections and expertise he gained in his time as a music journalist and editor to bring artists back into the political conversation.

"There are so many artists and companies out there who care about causes. I think I'm now positioned better than most to help them build foundations, create movements, generate digital content and social media, raise funds or promote their efforts," Werde tells Billboard. "My vision is that we can help a lot of artists be even more impactful with their efforts, and hopefully encourage more than a few who have been thinking about jumping into the fray to finally commit."

Fenton itself has some previous experience with artist advocacy, having worked with Lady Gaga, Questlove and Yoko Ono on the Artists Against Fracking campaign, which contributed to the successful campaign to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing mining in New York.

Merging the escapism of popular music with the realities and tumult of the times is a delicate balancing act -- if you're "All About That Bass," is there any room left for political engagement? More importantly, are artists afraid of alienating fans that span the political spectrum? "The general lack of political activism at the top of the charts is a systemic problem," says Werde. "Artists and their teams aren't just afraid of alienating fans. I'm not even sure they are afraid of that at all. But they make their money with brands today. Is their brand sponsor going to like their political statement? They still distribute their music on FM radio. Is Clear Channel going to decide they don't like a political statement? Let's not forget their 'Do Not Play' memo after 9/11."

"At some level, maybe it does take a little courage to do the right thing. But being famous doesn't exempt you from doing right," Werde continued. "I think it actually imparts a greater responsibility to take this amazing influence and audience you've gathered because of your gift, and try to make the world a better place. I just want to help artists realize that, when carefully considered and planned, this needn't be scary."


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