All we wanted was to give Bally positive press

When we saw the news that Bally Total Fitness' new chief marketing officer Martin Pazzani was going to rip hard-bodies and body-beautifuls out of many of the club's upcoming ad campaigns and plug in "more well-rounded" models, we cheered. Especially in context with all the other marketing and brand-building moves the chain had been churning out since Pazzani came on board in late summer.
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When we saw the news that Bally Total Fitness' new chief marketing officer Martin Pazzani was going to rip hard-bodies and body-beautifuls out of many of the club's upcoming ad campaigns and plug in "more well-rounded" models, we cheered. Especially in context with all the other marketing and brand-building moves the chain had been churning out since Pazzani came on board in late summer.

So SNEWS put in a call about a week ago to see if we could get a few more comments about what it meant and where it was going. All with the intent to glow a bit about what a dynamic move this was by a leading health club brand.

Sigh. Some people just don't know positive press when it whacks them in the face.

Herewith, another in our little SNEWS tales about how NOT to do PR -- instead of the story we wanted to do about all this nifty marketing stuff that Bally had rolling out:

The slew of news releases put out routinely by Bally Total Fitness gives the impression that the company actually wants media attention (www.ballyfitness.com/company/newsreleases.asp). So we were pretty shocked by the treatment we got. Ours was a request for a short interview and brief information for a straightforward story that would require only a few minutes of time from a Bally person, preferably Pazzani or at least somebody in his office.

After a week of banging our head against the wall, we have come to the conclusion the company may not be interested in publicity after all -- even if it's free. But we jump ahead of our story. Here's what happened:

We tried to contact numerous folks in various departments including communications, PR and marketing, whose jobs are, in fact -- gosh golly -- to promote the company to the media. They are paid to get the word out and help us, the media, get the word out. What happened? We were totally ignored. Granted, we aren't Time magazine, but com' on…. It was only after several calls to Bally's East Coast PR agency, The MWW Group, that we got any response. Which could have just as well been no response. We were told that "everyone" (Really? Every last person?) who could speak to this topic was out of town and couldn't speak to us at least until our deadline day, Dec. 15, or thereafter.

OK, we are used to quick work, so we tried to pre-schedule an interview on that day to get the story. No such luck. We were told that nothing could be scheduled and that we should just keep trying to call the company. Then the PR agency told us it couldn't really guarantee that anyone from Bally's would actually talk to us that day either. HELLO? Correct us if we're off base here, but isn't a PR agency's primary mission to facilitate the communication of the company's message to the hopefully interested public through the hopefully interested media? We wonder what kind of hefty New York fees Bally is paying this clueless PR firm to not "help" it with its public image?

As for the aforementioned campaign with "well-rounded models," we can only assume the company's motive is to boost new revenues and membership sales, both of which in the third quarter dropped -- 1 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

Pazzani was quoted by Adweek (he's apparently talking to some press about this, unless this was pulled from a press release): "We're learning that we can't impart a one-size-fits-all message -- literally and figuratively." According to Pazzani, previous ads were successful only at reaching consumers already "predisposed" to join a gym. That's not to say "aspirational" spots with "toned" models won't stay in the mix, added Pazzani. They will, but won't be exclusive.

Naturally, we would have loved to have confirmed his statements above, but since his PR people are too busy doing whatever it is they do to appear busy so they're actually too busy to deal with a call from a leading trade publication, we're left only with speculation. And so are you.

Sigh.

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