Striving to be No. 1

Although it’s the best-selling brand for fillo dough
and mini fillo shells in the country, Athens Foods Inc. still
faces a challenge to distinguish
itself in the marketplace.

Because it faces tough competition from brands such as
Pepperidge Farm and Pillsbury,
the company has to work hard to
create a marketing campaign to
encourage consumers to buy its
products, says Bill Buckingham.

“Those folks have deep pockets, and we don’t have the funds
like they have,” says Buckingham,
Athens’ vice president of sales
and marketing. “But we do have
a marketing strategy, and it’s
important that our sales force
goes out and talks to our customers and conveys our message that this is what Athens is
doing in terms of educating
their customers.”

For several years, Athens has
been working with Benghiat
Marketing & Communications
on its evolving marketing plan,
using Benghiat’s smart marketing approach, which creates
results for clients based on
attainable and measurable goals
and helps them better understand their customers.

Buckingham meets each
August with Benghiat’s founder
and president Russell Benghiat
and with Athens’ Chairman Eric
Moscahlaidis to begin the
process of developing the strategy for the coming year for the
200-employee company.

“It’s not something you put
together in a couple of weeks; it
takes months of planning,”
Buckingham says.

“We define the problem or
opportunity in terms of customers, competitors, organization or production capabilities,
and then establish clear and measurable goals and objectives,” Buckingham says.

Establish longer-term goals
first, and then determine what
needs to be accomplished each
year to ultimately accomplish
those goals.

“It is helpful to create quarterly goals to break down the
process,” Buckingham says. “It
may also be necessary to incorporate research if all of the necessary answers are not known.”

Once the plan is complete,
Athens executives meet with the
sales force to explain the plan.

“It’s a trickle-down effect,”
Buckingham says. “We start
with our sales force, the sales
force educates our direct buying
customers, and then we leave it
up to Benghiat to educate the

Executing a marketing plan
requires extensive communication. Athens uses a blend of traditional and new media advertising, public relations and direct-to-consumer outreach programs
to promote the use of its products. It employs press events,
Internet news, a consumer
recipe contest and an online
community for consumers to
chat with each other.

Once the plan has been implemented, measuring results is
imperative to judge its effectiveness. Each month, Athens
receives a summary of the number of visitors to its Web site to
gauge how many new consumers it is reaching; in a single
year, the company has had as
many as 1 million hits.

But even after you’ve gone
through the process of creating,
communicating and implementing your marketing plan, you’re
still not done. A good plan isn’t
something that you do once and
never look at again. Instead, you
need to revisit it frequently to
make sure you are working
toward your goals.

Do your research and listen to
your customers to identify
whether changes in your market require adjustments to your
plan. For example, Athens identified that its consumers had
nutritional concerns and, as a
result, changed its product to
make it healthier. The company
also reduced its packaging size
to meet retailer needs and to
better fit on store shelves.

Implementing a marketing
plan can help increase both
sales and consumer awareness,
says Buckingham, as well as
give you goals to reach for. And
by keeping a constant eye on
the plan, you can continue to
find new ways to implement it
to make buyers more aware of
your service or product.

HOW TO REACH: Athens Foods Inc., (800) 837-5683 or

Finding a good marketing partner

Working with a partner can
help make your marketing planning process easier, says
Russell Benghiat, founder and
president of Benghiat Marketing
& Communications.

Here, Benghiat shares his tips
for finding a marketing partner
that works for you.

  • Look at results. “As you’re
    talking to them, find out what
    measurable results can they
    obtain for you. The more clarity
    of purpose there is, the better
    job they’ll do for you and the
    more responsible you can hold
    them and the more focused you
    will be.”

  • Test their knowledge.
    “What is their knowledge of their
    business and your industry and
    needs or knowledge of the specific situation?”

  • Determine what type of
    relationship you’ll have.
    you want a firm that can be a
    consultant, an adviser to you
    and lead you, or do you have all
    the planning you need in-house
    and want someone who can say,
    ‘Do this brochure.’”

  • Test the chemistry. “How
    well do you click? You want to
    look at the specific team you’ll
    be working with at the firm, not
    just the people who are coming
    out to sell to you because those
    are the people you’re going to be
    in contact with day in and day

  • Get referrals. “Ask for
    referrals from similarly situated
    companies in your industry but
    those who are not competitors.
    Talk with your current partners
    and vendors … people who you
    trust and admire and can ask,
    ‘Who’s doing a good job for your
    key customers?’”

HOW TO REACH: Benghiat Marketing &
Communications, (216) 831-8580 or