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Striving to be No. 1 Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

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 consumers.”

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 www.athens.com

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. “Do 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 out.”

  • 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 www.benghiat.com