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It took just 5 minutes of discussion at a Ben & Jerry's board meeting to come up with the idea: posters plastered in public places announcing a search for a CEO to succeed co-founder Ben Cohen.

And it took barely a week for more than 12,000 people to respond to the posters, proclaiming "Yo! I'm your CEO!"

"I don't think anyone expected such an overwhelming response," said Holly Alves, marketing director for Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Waterbury, Vt.

The contest called for applicants to send an essay, describing in 100 words or less why they should be the new CEO. Also required: a lid from their favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

But some sent more creative responses. Floral arrangements proliferated, and one woman even sent a sheet cake decorated with her resume. The cutest, perhaps, came from a 4-year-old boy whose crayoned letter recommended his parents.

While most people have mailed their responses to the company, some used the search to promote themselves in the media. Joan Beck employed her syndicated column as a forum for the letter, while Alan Stillman, proprietor of Manhattan's Smith & Wollensky steak house, took out a page ad in The New York Times in the form of an entry.

Ben & Jerry's said the search has been a public relations coup.

"It certainly gets our name out there. It's an interesting grass-roots way to find a head," Ms. Alves said.

Some executives, such as Richard Edelman, president-CEO of Edelman Worldwide Public Relations, aren't so sure.

"I'm bemused ... I don't necessarily think it enhances their brand equity," Mr. Edelman said.

An executive recruiter is sifting through the entries to discover the next CEO. Deadline for entries is Sept. 14, with the position expected to be filled six months later.

Mr. Cohen will retain his post as chairman and remain active on the board. Co-founder Jerry Greenfield remains vice chairman.

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