Smoke-Free Zone

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Thano Chaltas has done some daring things during his first year as vice president of marketing at U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.

For one, he handed the firm’s $15 million to $20 million marketing account to a promotion agency: Colangelo. And he has started leading his firm and its main brands, Copenhagen and Skoal, into integrated marketing.

Why Colangelo? Because Chaltas worked with the agency at Kraft, and admired its strategic planning and execution. And Colangelo’s skill set fit in with his game plan.

Some observers might say it was risky of Chaltas even to take his current job. Tobacco is reviled by critics, and even marketers of the smokeless variety must contend with a welter of regulations.

But Chaltas says his firm follows all the rules, and points to the fact that smokeless tobacco sales have grown.

PROMO recently interviewed Chaltas on these challenges, and on the 13 years he spent at Kraft.

PROMO: Why did you hire a promotion agency to handle everything?

CHALTAS: At Kraft, we had multiple agencies, each executing against its own center of expertise. Ideally, that gave you best-in-class work, but it was challenging to make all the elements speak with one voice — the client had to make that happen. U.S. Smokeless is a smaller, more focused organization. It can use one lead agency to drive integrated messaging.

PROMO: How does a promotional outfit approach media advertising differently from an ad agency?

CHALTAS: Advertising isn’t the be-all and end-all; the idea is. Advertising is another tool in the toolbox, just like promotion, packaging, point-of-sale. You see which tools express your idea in the most impactful way.

PROMO: Isn’t it tough when you’ve got restrictions placed on you?

CHALTAS: I don’t think the restrictions make integrated marketing more difficult. We’re the only voluntary signatory of the Master Settlement Agreement between states and smokeless tobacco marketers, and our corporate policies go even beyond those restrictions. That’s the starting point. Then you say: “Within this context, how do I build powerful integrated marketing programs?”

PROMO: But there’s a lot of ill will toward tobacco companies. How do you deal with that?

CHALTAS: The first job we have is to work diligently to market responsibly and adhere to company policies and regulations. We look at growing the category within that context. Converting adult smokers to smokeless tobacco has been pretty successful for us. Moist smokeless tobacco is the fastest-growing category among the few hundred packaged goods categories that ACNeilsen measures: It was up 8% last year.

PROMO: Why did you jump to U.S. Smokeless from Kraft?

CHALTAS: For a few key reasons. Copenhagen and Skoal are among the strongest packaged goods brands. The company is focused on growth, and the culture here fits my own personal values. Plus, it’s the perfect-sized company — you can see and feel your impact on the business more directly than you can at a mega-place like Kraft. It has the brands, the support, the staffing and financial resources to do the great things you learn in a place like Kraft, but in a more focused organization.

PROMO: What were your greatest lessons at Kraft?

CHALTAS: Put the consumer first. Integrated marketing is hard work, but worth the trip. Good clients get great marketing. When working with multiple agencies, don’t play favorites; take the best ideas from where they come.

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