Chobani Yogurt Searches for Creative Shop After Gotham CEO Departure

Incumbent Invited to Pitch Business

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Chobani Yogurt has begun reaching out to a select group of shops to potentially succeed Gotham as its creative agency of record, after the Interpublic Group of Cos. shop last week lost its CEO, Peter McGuinness.

It's rare that an agency executive departure would so quickly spark a review, but in this case it's not surprising, considering remarks that Chobani founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, made in a speech at Ad Age 's Small Agency Conference in Denver last week. He noted that even more important than the capabilities of his agencies is the relationships they maintain with his company and within their own firms.

Executives close to the situation told Ad Age that when the review was initiated last week, Gotham was not invited to defend the account. But it is understood that Chobani has now agreed to allow the incumbent to present work along with others invited to participate in the review.

The process is being led by Chobani VP-Marketing Doron Stern. He has been at the company for two-and-a-half years, and earlier spent time in marketing roles at Bristol Myers Squibb and L'Oreal. Several people familiar with the pitch said he is considering only about eight agencies and is looking for a shop on the East Coast to allow proximity to Chobani's upstate New York headquarters. Final pitches are expected to take place in September. Chobani declined to comment on the review.

The creative review won't affect indie digital shop Big Spaceship, a recent addition to Chobani's roster, or its PR agency, Omnicom Group's Fleishman-Hillard.

It's not a giant account -- during the first four months of 2011, Chobani spent about $9 million in U.S. measured media, according to Kantar Media -- but it is an opportunity to work on a market leader. Chobani currently leads sales in the Greek yogurt category, outpacing Fage and new entrants to the category like Kraft's Athenos.

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