A public relations perspective of the Martha Stewart crisis.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
Tasteful Farmhouse or the Big House?
Slate's resources on the trial continue to provide insight into the trial. I've already pointed you to timelines showing how the Martha mess came to pass. Slate offers another one for those retracing Stewart's steps. But my favorite new resource is Blodget's self-proclaimed Martha Meter.
Blodget is gauging Martha's chances of being found guilty or innocent based on what he learns covering the trial. Right now he feels she has a 20 percent chance of being found guilty.
What do you think? Is Martha innocent or guilty? Take the poll located to the right and weigh in.
Slate's Guide to the Martha Stewart trial provides a comprehensive review of news, analysis and relevant background leading up to Martha's day in court. Henry Blodget covering the trial for Slate made big news before the trial started. It is great to see him deliver. Check it out.
If you told me 1.5 years ago I would be writing about Martha Stewart, I would have gotten hostile. But here we are. I thought it might be helpful to review the posts that drove the creation of this blog.“Martha, Martha, Martha!” July 28, 2002—From focusing on her salad to hiring a crisis communications firm, this first post looks at Martha’s early strategy.Silence as a Strategy October 10, 2002—Nothing to say as her legal team firms up her case and the media make their own assumptions.The Big Red K October 11, 2002—K-Mart ads with Martha in them make one wonder which brand needs more help.One long year December 14, 2002—An update one year after the stock sale that launched a scandal.Is Martha’s other shoe dropping? June 03, 2003—The feds prepare to indict Martha.Martha Talks. Finally. June 05, 2003—Legal and PR teams in lockstep, they roll out the new strategy with a bang.Personal scandal exacerbates business issues October 10, 2003—The danger of one person being the brand becomes clear when Martha’s magazine sees hard times.It’s not a good thing November 10, 2003—Martha Stewart’s interview with Barbara Walters helps Martha distance herself from her company, position herself as a normal person and influence potential jurors.It’s been a long 1.5 years for Martha. It will be interesting to see how the observations above hold up and evolve as the trial heats up.
The jury is selected and MSLO's stock is up as the trial officially begins today. Some suggest it will be a fast, straightforward trial. Fast or slow, it will be a media frenzy. Barring the media from jury selection merely chummed the waters. The media are hungry and hopeful as they aim their spotlights on Martha's biggest show yet.
As Stewart is the nucleus of the MSLO brand, the media are now trying to determine what will happen post-trial. CNBC offers a great quote: "While press coverage is up and earnings are down, some still insist that Stewart's company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia is here to stay. Still, at last check, business was way off at Stewart's company. "Newsday shares some other points of view around the company's uncertain future. Obviously, the company is having performance issues that are exacerbated by Stewart's trial. MSLO is being hurt by the trial. Will the trial and its outcome finish Stewart and/or MSLO? I really doubt it.Will both Stewart and MSLO think twice before hanging brand on one individual? I really hope so.
Everyone, including myself, has been ga-ga over Marthatalks since it launched many moons ago. While some report on the site as if it were the first of its kind, I have been impressed at how Martha has leveraged the support her fans have expressed through the Web site.Another Web site that now merits mention is Save Martha. Mostly a novelty, this site is run by a die-hard Martha fan. He started his site in support of Martha well before she launched Marthatalks and it has gotten a lot of coverage. The site was even mentioned during Martha's interview with Barbara Walters.The importance of this site was elevated with a UPI story questioning if Martha Stewart is getting a fair shake in a trial that has not even begun presenting its case!In the article, Double standard hurting Martha Stewart? Save Martha site founder John Hall is quoted as an expert on the trial. At best, this piece should be on the op/ed page and not on the news wire. Day three of jury selection yields no new stories so the UPI interviews a clearly biased source for a new angle on the trial.All I know is, Martha should be sending John Hall one heckuva fruit basket post-trial...no matter HOW the trial turns out. Hall's coup brings a lot of things into question, but mostly shows how lazy one reporter can be. This is particularly true when you compare this story to how other news outlets are making due without access to the selection process.Newsday updates us on how MSLO is doing. The New York Times looks at the role of publicity in the trial and how intense press coverage drove the prosecution to ban media from the selection process in the first place. The New York Times is among several news outlets fighting to overturn this ban. A media circus will find a way to have its show.
Too many news outlets covering the Martha Stewart trial are not saying enough. As predicted, barring the media from access to jury selection has created an issue of supply and demand—plenty of reporters to cover the trial and no trial.So I was doubly pleased when I found this piece on NPR. Public relations and damage control includes an interview with Eric Dezenhall, an expert in damage control and the author of "Nail 'Em: Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses." Dezenhall has some interesting perspectives on how to approach situations like the Stewart scandal.Unfortunately, he also makes some sweeping generalizations about public relations. We see people go off message in front of the media all the time. But when it is a fellow public relations professional, it makes me angry. All too often PR folk wonder why no one understands or appreciates what we do for a living. Dezenhall provides a perfect example how misunderstanding is created and reinforced.
The Stewart camp has kept its legal team and public relations team in lockstep—a key to navigating any crisis successfully. In a recent New York Times article, we see how closely they have been working together.In addition to Martha’s Web site and strategically timed interviews, Stewart has also been conducting opinion polls and focus groups. While this research will help the defense prepare for the trial, it will be interesting to see if the prosecution tries to use this very preparation against Stewart. If someone tests public reaction to a guilty verdict, is that person implying they might be guilty?
Note to media covering the trial—if you must use alliteration when referring to Ms. Stewart, can we move past domestic doyen? It has been overused. Might I suggest "home improvement impresario," "good thing guru" or "savant of all things shelter?" Fine, all of these have too many words/characters for a tight news piece. But I implore you, no more domestic doyen!Phew. Thanks.Always on the lookout for interactive content, CNN maps out Martha's world for us. This overview helps detail how big her brand really is and what's at stake should she be found guilty.
CNBC has a great, albeit unscientific, poll asking visitors if they think the Martha Stewart brand can survive the trial. Most voters think it can. I agree. Martha has had some big missteps on the public relations front and she might be found guilty, but the MSLO board surely has a brand strategy that takes a guilty verdict into account.Media are barred from tomorrow's jury selection. This is only bad news in that it means stories will be rehashed. One rehashed story we are seeing is the news that Henry Blodget has been tapped by Slate to cover the trial.Henry Blodget has relevant experience with financial analysis and personal scandals. His questionable past is attracting attention. Unfortunately it also calls his ethics into question. We do not need any more unethical reporters running around.But with a horde of media thwarted from covering the trial, Blodgett is the most interesting piece of related news.So, in lemming-like fashion, I'll be posting a review of my Martha Stewart content. In lieu of new stories to dissect, this will allow everyone to catch up on Martha's PR missteps thus far.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia is preparing for several scenarios based on the outcome of Stewart's trial. In the meantime, Martha is more focused on the Web than home crafts.Salon reports she has been closely involved with her personal Web site. as the trial approaches. This is smart as we have already seen the value of her Web page as spokesperson approach. Stick with what works. In fact, her site will probably become a media resource during the trial. Martha notes they are planning a "trial update" section that will include transcripts starting next week:mdash;as they become available.We've come a long way from just courtroom sketches folks. In fact, I predict the support Martha has gotten through her site will be submitted as evidence.The media has had it the worst this week...looking for any angle to report on this story. We're seeing profiles people involved with the trial, reports on MSLO and just about anything else trial-related. The AP is even working on a story that will share consumer feelings about the Martha Stewart brand. Are consumers buying more or less right now? How do they feel about the quality of her products? Will the verdict impact your purchase of Martha Stewart products? THAT is the multi-million dollar question.
Jury selection is an art and a science as detailed in this article noting fans could be foes. Interesting, as the uninitiated would assume a Martha fan would be a lock for a not-guilty verdict. The AP also introduces us to the legal teams for the prosecution and the defense. It will be interesting to see how the circus portrays the legal teams throughout the trial.
CNN has created a helpful timeline to summarize the evolution of Martha Stewart's career.Hopefully the court case will not "end" the timeline as certain events can define a career. I highly doubt this will be the case.Regardless, Martha should be considering strategies to rebuild her brand. The verdict will help decide her next moves, but it is never too early to start planning.
Jury screening questionnaires have not even been handed out yet and Judge M. G. Cedarbaum has already issued a three page order reminding instructing prospective jurors to not speak to anyone about the case or to read or hear about it in the media. The judge also admits the trial will be subject to "widespread and intense press coverage."There's an understatement. This will be a three-ring media circus. In lieu of a trial, some news outlets are already speculating about what might happen. The circus is why this blog was created.In the meantime, MSLO reported a 42 per cent drop in third-quarter earnings recently and warned fourth-quarter earnings will fall far short of analysts' expectations. Sure Stewart's trial is impacting MSLO performance, but it does not get all of the credit. You also need to consider the overall economy, a glut of home show programming and competitive offerings to come up with a 42 percent earnings drop.Hopefully for MSLO it will be a fast trial. It should be considering the straightforward charges. But no trial can start without a jury. And splitting the atom is easier than finding 12 impartial folks that have not heard a lot about this trial. Good luck.