Consistent referrals to SPR from "Martha Stewart + public relations" searches made me curious about the latest Martha news. Since traffic logs driving content translates into giving readers what they want, here are my findings.
Overall, the wheels of justice are still turning. According to Yahoo News, her civil case will proceed along with the criminal case claiming she obstructed justice. In all fairness, U.S. District Judge Sprizzo notes this is not the most serious case of obstructing justice he has seen. He also wonders why prosecutors use so many press conferences to discuss the case, which begins on January 12.
Martha Talks continues to focus on her as a person while updating you on the trial. She currently shows a picture of her celebrating her mom's 89th birthday. The picture is to keep reminding us she is a person, not a company. Distancing herself from MSLO is key to helping preserve the brand and not allowing her current legal issues to impact MSLO business
Unfortunately this strategy is not working.
The New York Times reports that Martha Stewart Living is cutting its rate base by 22 percent due to declining readership. Thanks to Media Map's new blog for the link to this story.
In defense of Martha, Martha Stewart Living and MSLO, her current legal issues are not to blame for most of the readership decline. Competition from other publications, a glut of new home shows like Trading Spaces and retail promotions are the more likely culprits.
As if on cue, Martha has launched a Web site appropriately titled, Martha Talks. A full-page ad in this morning's USA Today drives readers to the site and allows her to state her case.
She is finally establishing communication with the outside world. And it's a good thing. As we all know, if you do not communicate your side of the story, the media will be more than happy to make assumptions on your behalf.
A year and a half after ImClone, it looks like the Feds are getting ready to indict Martha Stewart.
It is interesting to note the challenge it presents her company in moving forward:
"Sales at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia have suffered since Stewart's trouble began. The company lost money in its first quarter, reflecting weak advertising at its flagship magazine, weaker-than-promised sales at retailer Kmart Corp. and Stewart's legal problems.
Adams Harkness & Hill analyst Laura Richardson said the company faces competition on several fronts. That means that simply firing Stewart and changing the company's name won't be enough to solve its problems, she said.
"There are three sides of the company -- the personality side, the creative side and the advertising side," said Richardson. "If you change the personality without changing the creative side, that's not good for the company."
What will MSLO's strategy be moving forward? Changes are clearly afoot for the communications empire which gets 62 percent of its revenue from publishing. And as discussed about a year and a half ago in SPR, Martha's silence strategy continues.
This month-old article does a great job at predicting what might happen to Martha Stewart. It's been one year since the stock sale in question occurred—a mere six months since the likes of you and I caught wind of it.
This year, there will be no Martha Stewart Annual Christmas Special on CBS. She's sticking to her silent strategy.
By laying low, Stewart distances herself from the larger brand—a brand she will still own 61 percent of if she is asked to step down as CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
Regardless of what happens here, the Martha Stewart Living brand will survive.
Martha's plight is continuing to develop. Now they are looking into whether or not she has committed securities fraud.
You may recall the House turned over its investigation to the Justice Department after Stewart's attorneys said she would refuse to testify.
If silence is golden, Martha will keep her millionaire status no matter what happens. But, perhaps she should have hired an investor relations firm instead of a crisis communications firm to help her through this debacle?
Current events always provide excellent fodder for public relations' dissection, er, discussion. Martha Stewart's crisis is no different. Specifically, the investigations concerning her involvement with possible insider trading of ImClone Systems, Inc. stock.
As you should know by now, Stewart sold her shares of ImClone the day before the Food and Drug Administration announced it would not review the company's cancer drug application. Stewart is also a personal friend of ImClone's former CEO, who was arrested on charges of securities fraud and conspiracy for allegedly tipping family members to sell their stock.
This is obviously a great example of the need for crisis communication plans. According to the Associated Press, Stewart spent her Fourth of July holiday hiring The Brunswick Group to do damage control.
This was immediately after her last, and now infamous, appearance on CBS' The Early Show. She said, ''I want to focus on my salad,'' when asked about the ImClone issue during her then weekly cooking segment (she canceled the segment shortly afterwards).
We could note this snafu proves out the importance of media training. But lets look at the bigger issue of brand strategy. Crisis communication's and media training's role in a brand strategy is to preserve and reinforce the brand—when used proactively. Far too often, they're used reactively with mixed results.
In a recent quarterly earnings call, Stewart focused on how she is one employee of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO). She noted the show will go on and the brand will endure without her.
This approach keeps everyone focused on the business, focused on the many employees that have nothing to do with Stewart's personal investments. This distances MSLO from Stewart.
Another strategy, implemented by a Stewart fan, is grassroots activism. Save Martha is a movement that has been getting a lot of attention, claiming Martha Stewart is a victim. The Web site points to the management of companies under scrutiny right now (from Tyco and Adelphia to WorldCom and Enron). Save Martha feels they are the real criminals and tries to minimize the allegations against Stewart. It also enables visitors with an action plan and offers them merchandise so they can show their support.
Will this all have an impact and help Stewart save face? It is too soon to tell as allegations are still being investigated. But whether it is a quarterly earnings call or grassroots activism, the strategy of distraction only buys her some time.
For now she is lying low, perhaps planning phase two of her brand defense. She'd better hurry. With the Corporate Reform Bill fast en route to becoming a law, the stakes are even higher for Stewart if she is found guilty.