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Women to Watch: Lauren Hobart

Chief Marketing Officer-Sparkling Brands, PepsiCo

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- There are those who accept risk as a necessary evil, and then there are those who embrace it. Lauren Hobart is the latter. The 41-year-old's nearly 13-year career at PepsiCo has included a number of high-profile risks. From the 2006 relaunch of Diet Mtn Dew to this year's decision to pull Pepsi from the Super Bowl commercial lineup, Ms. Hobart has been at the center of some polarizing marketing moves.

Rob Schwartz, chief creative officer at Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, said it's Ms. Hobart's aversion to playing it safe that makes her a smart marketer. "At first, you might think, there's no way somebody that's this grounded would have the ability to think outside the box. But whatever you present to Lauren, she gravitates toward the edgiest stuff," he said. "She's got guts. She's really willing to look at a creative, unexpected idea. And she has the confidence to say, 'let's do it.'"

Ms. Hobart, who was promoted to the role of chief marketing officer-sparkling brands for PepsiCo Beverages Americas last October, now finds herself in another risky endeavor. Amid a North American slump in carbonated soft-drink consumption, Pepsi is ripping up the traditional marketing rulebook and pouring more than $20 million into consumer grants voted on by the public. Ms. Hobart is one of the key figures behind the much-hyped Pepsi Refresh Project, which kicked off in January and has captured the attention of advertising industry executives, digital-media experts, cause-marketing gurus and consumers.

Mr. Schwartz said Ms. Hobart has been "very influential" in promoting the Pepsi Refresh Project internally. He recounted an event in Miami where Ms. Hobart presented the program to a group of senior bottling executives. "She was right up there, front and center," he said. "She's fearless. ... She doesn't scare easily, and she's not intimidated by contrarian views."

The program is slated to run through 2010, though Ms. Hobart said it's her goal to create initiatives that last longer than a single year. Also high on her list? Setting PepsiCo's carbonated-beverage portfolio on the path to growth. As with the category overall, it has been lagging. In 2009, the company's North American carbonated soft-drink business reported a 5% decline in volume, on top of a 4% decline in 2008.

"My biggest challenge and biggest opportunity [in my career at PepsiCo] is the job I'm in right now," Ms. Hobart said. "It is an incredibly exciting opportunity to be able to work with our carbonated soft-drink business and bring growth to a category that has slowed."

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