SBJ/20100308/Forty Under 40

Matt Pensinger


It took one infamous moment to drive Matt Pensinger out of public relations and into sports marketing. While working in PR for the U.S. figure skating team in 1994, Pensinger found himself handling the media frenzy after the assault on Nancy Kerrigan that involved rival Tonya Harding.

Relay Worldwide

“That got me out of public relations,” Pensinger said. “There was just two of us working in PR for the skating team and it was an avalanche.”

The PR industry’s loss was the sports marketing industry’s gain. After moving into marketing for the U.S. Figure Skating Association, Pensinger helped work on the association’s 10-year, $100 million deal with ABC. The experience launched Pensinger’s career, which has since aligned him with some of the industry’s biggest spenders.

Age: 39
Title: Senior vice president, marketing services and consulting
Company: Relay Worldwide
Education: B.A., English, University of Illinois; MBA, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Family: Wife, Wendy; twin boys Alex and Henry
Career: Intern, U.S. Olympic Committee; U.S. Figure Skating, 1993-1998, in a number of positions including communications manager, corporate program and events manager and director of events; became manager of Olympic marketing for General Motors in 1998; eventually became manager, marketing alliances at GM; moved to Chicago in 2005 to lead consulting division at Relay Worldwide
Last vacation: Cabo San Lucas
Favorite book: "Catcher in the Rye"
Favorite movie: "Rushmore"
What’s on your iPod? Radiohead
Pet peeve: Bad grammar from people who should know better
Greatest achievement: Bringing home my two healthy boys, Alex and Henry
Greatest disappointment: Chicago Cubs loss in 2003 NLCS
Fantasy job: Rock critic for Rolling Stone
Executive you most admire: Steve Jobs, for showing that innovation is about making something simple
Business advice: Never be afraid to fail.

Pensinger moved to General Motors in 1998 when the car company signed its Olympic sponsorship and worked in Detroit for seven years helping GM with its NCAA and Major League Baseball deals. All the while, Pensinger, a Chicago-area native, was commuting to the University of Chicago, where he earned his MBA.

In 2005, Pensinger joined Relay Worldwide as the agency looked to develop a consulting division.

“I had done a ton at GM and was interested in getting back to Chicago,” Pensinger said. “I was fortunate to have spent time on the brand side and property side, and to be able to bring that understanding to bear at an agency.”

Today, as senior vice president of marketing services and consulting for Relay, Pensinger helps the agency build its consulting business and works with top brands like McDonald’s, Toyota and Sharp Electronics.

“We rely on him to put together a coherent overview and raise the overall value of our program,” said Andrew Kritzer, associate vice president of Sharp Electronics. “Matt services our group from a managerial standpoint and he has done a terrific job.”

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