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WVU team takes top three spot in Taziki's Marketing Challenge

A team of top marketing students from  West Virginia University’s  College of Business and Economics will travel to the corporate headquarters of Taziki’s Mediterranean Café in Birmingham, Ala., as a semi-finalist in the first-ever Taziki’s Collegiate Marketing Challenge.

A group of six students will present their marketing proposal to the Taziki’s Board of Directors and executive team on Friday, Dec. 14. They will compete against teams from Samford University and the College of Charleston for the chance to win $5,000. The top three teams were selected in a preliminary round out of a total of 24 teams from universities nationwide.

“Many presentations have been on par with what would be expected from a professional marketing firm,” said Seth Williams, marketing coordinator for Taziki’s. “All three of these teams took the root of the challenge to heart, and developed some new and creative ways for us to build brand recognition in an otherwise unfamiliar market.”

The students were briefed on the marketing challenge in September and were given the task of developing a marketing plan for a Taziki’s Mediterranean Café opening in a nearby city. For the WVU team, the city was Pittsburgh, Pa.

“The students did market research and developed a marketing plan reflecting Taziki’s current customer as well as local markets,” said Dr.  Michael Walsh, associate professor of marketing, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Taziki’s Collegiate Marketing Challenge and responsible for the recruitment of WVU team members.

“They presented a very cohesive marketing plan. They set their objectives and everything they did was consistent with meeting those objectives,” said Dr.  Karen France, associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of marketing. France will travel with the team to Birmingham.

WVU team leader Lori Crist and teammates Jaime Siudak, Sara Willingham, Jordan Wilcox, Danielle Lemon and Rachelle Purych, all seniors in the  marketing program, will travel to the competition. Marketing student Joni Koay is also a team member, although she will not travel for the final proposal presentation. The students will receive academic credit for their participation.

In late November, the team presented its work to local Taziki’s store owners, store managers and J. Michael Bodnar, a B&E alumnus who was instrumental in fostering the partnership between the College of Business and Economics and Taziki’s Mediterranean Café. Along with fellow alumnus Doug VanScoy, Bodnar donated the Taziki’s store on WVU’s campus, which serves as a fully functioning laboratory for WVU students in the  Hospitality and Tourism program. All net profits benefit the program.

“This is an excellent marketing project that offers college students a real world business challenge,” said WVU President Jim Clements on November 27, when  Bodnar donated $1 million to the College of Business and Economics. Half of the gift will fund the newly established J. Michael Bodnar Hospitality and Tourism Support Fund.

“This is truly a win-win situation. The students will take concepts learned in the classroom and apply them to the real world. Taziki’s gets a ton of fresh, innovative thinking and generates excitement on campus. This reflects our emphasis on experiential learning,” Walsh said. He will continue working with the students to fine tune their presentation before they head to Birmingham.

“We want to provide opportunities for our students to compete in real world venues. Going further in the Taziki’s Marketing Challenge brings a level of prestige to the quality of our students. It also speaks to the strength of our faculty and the training that our students receive in addition to their own ability,” France said.

Taziki’s officials said that while many brands use traditional media to build awareness, Taziki’s has found success comes from connecting with communities in more personal ways. The establishment of this competition, they said, is one example of community outreach through offering students a real-world challenge that encourages team-building and creative thinking.

Taziki’s operates 20 restaurant locations in six states, with plans to expand into new markets in the coming year. The insight from the Taziki’s Collegiate Marketing Competition will be influential in the chain’s expansion.