Bally Fitness broadens reach with full-scale marketing

With the financial side of the business needing a bit of a shake up in the last couple of years, one move that Bally Total Fitness took was to bring in an outsider last year to head up marketing who would help create a tremor or two. And that's exactly what Martin Pazzani did.
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With the financial side of the business needing a bit of a shake up in the last couple of years, one move that Bally Total Fitness took was to bring in an outsider last year to head up marketing who would help create a tremor or two. And that's exactly what Martin Pazzani did.

On the heels of 2003 earnings reports for Bally (NYSE: BFT) that showed record membership fees and revenues up by 5 percent for the year with most of that coming in a sprint-to-the-finish in the last quarter, Bally's outside perspective has not only served the company well, but is spawning a growing marketing organization.

"I see nothing but opportunity," said Pazzani, chief marketing officer since late August 2003. "I look at this industry and see one that is ripe to be a super growth industry and one to have fun with."

With degrees in psychology and marketing, he came to Chicago-based Bally with a reputation as a strategic marketer, brand builder and integrated marketing expert who leveraged consumer and competitor research and insights. Of course, that included the operations and sales teams, he told SNEWS®.

Pazzani speaks rapidly and is quick to include others as the reason for recent success. He came from outside the fitness industry (albeit a Bally member since 1982) and was able to bring that perspective to help the national chain of nearly 420 clubs in 29 states, Canada, Asia and the Caribbean focus more clearly with insights from, yes, his specialty, research.

One thing the club learned and immediately implemented was the need to target a broader market.

"We had to target a broader population of people," he said. "The fitness industry is very good at talking to 25-year-olds."

Thus came advertising campaigns, materials, programs and personnel that would use and appeal to larger-size people, older people, the deconditioned as well as other ethnic groups. Without, of course, turning away its staple of fitness enthusiasts and 20-somethings.

For example, the club began to offer pay-as-you-go memberships instead of contracts and instituted some lower prices to attract other groups. It offered a free pass to participants in the Discovery Channel's weight-loss challenge -- and gave out 250,000 of them. It has a 30-day "results guaranteed" money-back offer. And the chain is also slowly redesigning its facilities with softer and warmer colors, as well as adding features like child care, retail and more weight-management programs, plus a wider variety of group exercise classes -- again with the goal to reach beyond its core of younger or more fit members.

"We're making the clubs much more inviting," Pazzani said. "The proof is in the pudding…. We're seeing a lot of deconditioned people joining lately."

The club chain also in late January released results from its first consumer survey called "Everybody Needs Something" (like its new ad campaign theme) that showed Americans are embarrassed about being overweight and that the country needs a comprehensive solution to the obesity problem. As topics present themselves, he said, the club will undertake and release other surveys, with another coming soon.

"We're trying to capture what people are looking for and how Bally can be of service," he explained.

In addition, announced on March 18 was a fine-tuning and expanding of the marketing arm at Bally to include insiders and new hires covering brand management, customer relations, field marketing and promotions, and a creative director.

"As we create a solid foundation for the future, continuing to build a top seasoned executive team is critical to our success," said Paul Toback, Bally chairman, CEO and president, in a statement.

Prior to joining Bally, Pazzani ran a marketing consultancy, which he founded following six years at the Foote, Cone & Belding agency in New York. There, he was worldwide director of "The Chess Team," the company's in-house management consultancy, where he led a global network of creative business and marketing strategists that he grew from four people in New York into a staff at 10 offices around the world who worked on key clients like S.C. Johnson, Kraft, Circuit City, American Express, Compaq, Samsung and the U.S. Postal Service. Bally Total Fitness is now a client of Foote, Cone & Belding in Chicago.

Pazzani's past affiliations include DDB Needham, Western International Media (now Initiative Media), RocketScience Advertising, and 13 years at Heublein (now Diageo), where he helped build Smirnoff Vodka and Jose Cuervo Tequila into category leaders.

He also stays fit partly to indulge in his pursuit of mountaineering that has taken him to the summits of major peaks on all seven continents.

"I continue," he said of Bally, "to see incredible potential."

We bet he's not paying for his membership anymore.

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