ESTHER LEE, COCA-COLA CO.

Behind Coke's 'Real' Campaign

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19 of 22 > GO TO Next 2003 Woman to Watch

It's not your average account exec who can be hired to oversee a bevy of creatives and have them end up actually respecting her.

Esther Lee, chief creative officer of North America, Coca-Cola Co.

Then again, Esther Lee isn't your average anything. She's a dynamo who helped Deutsch become the powerhouse it is today, a workaholic and entrepreneur who opened her own agency and then was lured to Coca-Cola Co. as chief creative officer of North America.

Risk taker
A seasoned risk taker, she's analytical and strategic with good creative ideas -- and not just for an account person, say people who have worked with her. Ms. Lee oversees media, creative and agencies for all brands of the world's largest soft-drink concern and was involved at every shoot for Coke's "Real" campaign from the time she joined Coke in September 2002. She is intimately involved in day-to-day creative and helps bring ideas to fruition, say people who work with her now.

"Esther is confident enough with herself that she doesn't have to be the smartest person in the room but oftentimes she is," says Scott Flood, worldwide executive group creative director at WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York. Ogilvy is agency of record for Sprite and Fanta.

JWT and Deutsch
Ms. Lee graduated from Cornell University and was a senior vice president at J. Walter Thompson Co. She moved in 1993 to independent Deutsch, where she was closely involved in new business and strategy as vice president and director of agency development and client service.

Ms. Lee left Deutsch in 1997 with creative director Greg DiNoto in to open New York agency DiNoto Lee. She spent five years with the boutique.

Coca-Cola and Ms. Lee declined to be interviewed. Some people refer to her as passionate about her work, though one says that passion can come at the price of diplomacy.

'Temperamental and precise'
"She's 5 feet tall but 100% power. She's temperamental and precise. She's a Type A perfectionist and gets irritated if people don't live up to her demands and expectations. It goes back to 'If it's a man, he's successful. If it's a woman, she's [difficult],' " says one person who has worked with her.

Even though she's at Coca-Cola, Ms. Lee's entrepreneurial bent could rear its head again, suggests that person. And if it doesn't, that person proffers, "She can be the next Dawn Hudson," referring to the president of rival Pepsi-Cola North America, part of PepsiCo.

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