Chobani Kicks Off PR Agency Review

Greek Yogurt Giant is Shaking up its Agency Roster Under New Marketing Leaders

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Greek yogurt leader Chobani is turning its attention to PR as it approaches the end of a creative agency review.

PR incumbent Fleishman-Hillard has been working with the company, which is the top-selling Greek brand in the U.S., for a number of years. It will participate in the review, Chobani said. FleishmanHillard is owned by Omnicom, which yesterday announced its plans for a historic $35.1 billion merger with holding company Publicis Groupe.

Chobani still has to finish up its second creative agency review of the year. The company had moved the account to Boston-based independent agency Boathouse in February after a short stint with Leo Burnett, New York, but began another review following the appointment of Brad Charron as senior VP-marketing in April. Mr. Charron was a former marketer for Under Armour. The company also hired former DDB Chicago CEO Peter McGuinness as chief marketing and brand officer.

"We recently amped up our internal marketing and communications team, adding a deep bench of world-class professionals to mirror a traditional agency model," the company said in June, regarding the latest creative review. "With this agency review, we are looking to match our internal strength with a partner who shares our vision to provide people with access to delicious and nutritious food."

The creative review has been narrowed to four finalists: Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York, Wieden & Kennedy New York, Droga5 and The Martin Agency. They will be briefed at Chobani's manufacturing plant in upstate New York.

Chobani was an early pioneer in Greek yogurt, which now accounts for about 43% of yogurt sales, according to Bernstein Research, but is now fighting off new competition from food giants trying to grow their Greek shares after a late start. At the same time, Chobani has felt some heat from some activists who have called on the brand to stop marketing its products as "real" and "natural" until it stops using milk from cows that receive genetically modified feed.

But the company is now in the running for an $11 billion school-lunch pilot program bid, driven by the Department of Agriculture, to supply its product to schools in four states. The bid comes a year and a half after the company began marketing a new Greek yogurt product for children.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the brand and FleishmanHillard have also worked with D.C. lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Affairs. In 2012, the team spent about $80,000 on lobbying. This year it has already spent about half that amount on lobbying.

As the playing field gets more crowded, Chobani looks poised to significantly boost its marketing and media outlays. The marketer is prepared to spend to around $70 million next year on media, according to industry executives who have been briefed on the matter. The company declined to discuss its spending plans. According to Kantar Media, the brand spent $27.7 million on domestic measured media in 2012. Chobani last year surpassed $1 billion in sales, according to the company.

Earlier this year, Chobani's agencies, including Fleishman, Big Spaceship and Boathouse, supported the introduction of a campaign called "Go Real Chobani," which positioned the brand as an authentic strained yogurt made with natural ingredients.

Contributing: E.J. Schultz

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