Exclusive: Coke taps Lee as top creative

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Coca-Cola Co. has hired agency veteran Esther Lee as chief creative officer for North America, overseeing media, creative and agencies for all brands of the world's largest soft-drink company.

Ms. Lee, principal and director of strategic development at the five-year-old New York independent DiNoto Lee, reports to Chris Lowe, Coca-Cola's chief marketing officer for North America. She is expected to influence brands outside the U.S. and will spend 15% of her time abroad, said a Coca-Cola insider.

Coca-Cola spent $406 million on U.S. advertising last year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Ms. Lee will work with brand teams and agencies to "facilitate top-notch creative and best-in-class advertising" said the insider, adding "she has the breadth of experience to pull together both the business units and the ad agencies ... to develop strong, compelling advertising."

Coca-Cola declined to comment, and Ms. Lee did not return telephone calls.

Her mission is to give brands more pizzaz. "She was hired as a creative director to tell the creative directors what to do," said another executive.

no issue

Coca-Cola has consolidated with Interpublic Group of Cos., though WPP Group shops and a handful of independents work on brands as well. The insider said Ms. Lee's lack of soft-drink experience is not an issue, considering she has worked on brands including AOL Time Warner's CNN, Citicorp's Citibank and LVMH Moet Hennessey-Louis Vuitton's DomaineChandon wines.

Ms. Lee's is a new position at Coca-Cola, which has suffered from lackluster sales and marketing but recently has begun to come back into favor with analysts. In August, it outpaced the industry, increasing volume 5.1% and revenue 2.1%, according to UBS Warburg analyst Caroline Levy.

deutsch vet

Ms. Lee had been exec VP-director of agency development and director of client services at Deutsch before it was acquired by Interpublic and was a senior VP at WPP's J. Walter Thompson Co. in the early 1990s. She and Greg DiNoto started DiNoto Lee in 1997.

Mr. DiNoto declined to comment about how Ms. Lee's departure would affect the shop, though in July it brought on Brian Martin, a former colleague from Deutsch, as partner. DiNoto Lee clients include Diageo's Schieffelin & Somerset and American Movie Classics.

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