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Behind the Scenes

Bally Killed the Messinger

As far as names and job titles go, you couldn't have picked a better department for Matt Messinger to work in than public relations. After all, he's already a "Messinger," even if his name is off by just one letter.

I got to know Matt by phone and through e-mail when I first got this job. As the Bally spokesperson, Matt was one of the first people I regularly contacted. There wasn't a week that went by in the early part of last year that didn't include a press release from Bally.

I always felt bad for Matt. He took more slings and arrows for Bally than any P.R. man should take in one lifetime. As Bally was in the process of filing for bankruptcy and its public image was being tarnished amid reports of its poor customer service and shoddy facilities, Matt served as the consummate company man. When I wanted to talk to Bally big wigs like Barry Elson and Don Kornstein, Matt dutifully thwarted me off. I got frustrated with Bally's tight-lipped operation from time to time, but I guess I would have done the same if I were in Matt's shoes.

Matt's role was a lot like the job the P.R. person had for the Titanic. He had to maneuver through senior noteholders and senior subordinated noteholders as well as reorganization plans and amended reorganization plans. All the while, I kept thinking, "Matt, get out while you still can."

Well, unfortunately, Bally let Matt go, right around Thanksgiving (nice timing, guys). It was part of Bally's "restructuring" after it emerged from bankruptcy at the end of September, just two months after its filing. Karyn Petkus, Matt's assistant and someone I've talked to off and on over the last year, has been handling Matt's duties, which no doubt have been reduced now that Bally is a private company. My editor informed me that Karyn served on an interim basis after former Bally P.R. man Jon Harris left for Sara Lee and before Matt came aboard. She's a sweet gal (Karyn, not Sara Lee, although I guess they can both be sweet), and I hope she can stick around.

I'm told that Bally does not plan to fill Matt's position at this time. I'm also told that Matt is still looking for work. So if you're looking for a company man who will defend your company at all times, Matt is your Messinger.

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