Lee Ascends Amid Executive Shuffle at Coke

NEW YORK Coca-Cola said it has elevated Esther Lee to its global marketing team, effective immediately, according to a company memo released to the media.

Lee, a former agency staffer with New York shops such as Deutsch, DiNoto Lee and J. Walter Thompson, has been Coke’s chief creative officer for North America since being hired in September 2002 by Steve Heyer. (Heyer was president and COO of the company until he left in the spring of 2004.)

Heyer and Lee were responsible for the “Real” campaign for Coke Classic that launched in January 2003 and was created by WPP Group’s Berlin Cameron/Red Cell. New work for the brand is expected this quarter.

Lee reports to Coke worldwide CMO Chuck Fruit, though his memo did not indicate if her title will change. Fruit said Lee will continue to be responsible for developing creative advertising ideas as the company seeks to execute fewer concepts across broader world regions.

He also said the company is searching for a North American advertising director following the resignation today of 10-year Coke veteran Javier Benito, who had been CMO of Coca-Cola North America and president of U.S. retail.

The company will split Benito’s duties between two staffers, a Coke representative said.

Melody Justice becomes president of Coke’s U.S. retail division, and John Hackett becomes svp of CCNA marketing. The CMO North America title has been discontinued, the rep said.

Justice and Hackett report to CCNA president Don Knauss.

Hackett was most recently general manager of the CCNA hydration business unit. Justice had been svp of strategy and planning for Coke North America.

In a presentation to Wall Street analysts last November, Coca-Cola worldwide CEO E. Neville Isdell said Coke would increase its global marketing expenditures by $350-400 million in 2005 and successive years. Most of that will be spent outside North America in markets such as Brazil, China, India and Russia. The Atlanta-based company annually spends an estimated $1 billion in global measured media.