21 May

3 PR Rules for Martha Stewart

By Erika Turan, APR

Senior Account Executive

Once upon a time, I loved Martha Stewart. I subscribed to her magazine as a fresh-out-of-college, apartment-dwelling single gal, and studied the oversized, matte (not glossy) pages for tips on creating topiary window boxes (still totally going to do that),making a platter of beef wellington (with meringue clouds for dessert) and crafting a miniature wreath for the front door of my dollhouse out of shards of robin’s egg shells.

Then, I started to see cracks in her façade:

  • The magazine’s monthly calendar had great ideas and task lists – if you employed a staff of 12, your only job was to make your house look incredible, and that house was an estate on Long Island. And the calendar always listed Martha’s appearances on the CBS Morning Show with an asterisk that read “subject to change due to breaking news.” Is that necessary? Surely Martha fans understand that even the domestic diva would be cancelled due to national tragedy or a security issue.
  • I also remember that one of those early issues contained a photo spread on the renovated New York City apartment of Martha’s grown daughter, Alexis. It was the antithesis of Martha: a palette of greys and concrete throughout the modern interior. And apparently Martha didn’t much care for that, because she sniffed in the article that while she would patiently spend years shopping for just the right item in her interior décor, Alexis needed immediate gratification and bought everything right away. Ouch.
  • I once read an interview with Martha and in it the reporter described staying at her home and seeing her awake at dawn, on her in-line skates, walking her dogs AND picking blueberries to put in homemade pancakes that morning. No one can relate to this.
  • Then, Martha went to prison. Hopefully, none of you dear readers can relate to this.

However, to her credit, and to the dismay of some, she not only made lemonade with her lemons while in prison as only Martha could, but post-release resumed her old life without seemingly  missing a beat. The magazine, the TV show, the branding of her name on countless products is still there. But, her company is small, and it’s shrinking.  In one quarter last year, it lost more than $50 million, while she continues to accept pay increases and compensation to supplement a lavish lifestyle.

So, if Martha Stewart were to ask our Cincinnati public relations agency what she could do to turn things around, I’d point to a single article published Parade magazine in April, 2013.

Here are a few of her gaffes, and how I’d suggest she re-frame them to make herself more approachable and frankly more likeable:

1.     On being a model when she was in her teens: “I knew I was good enough to get $60 an hour, which was the going rate at the time,” Stewart, 71, tells Parade, adding that she started modeling “just for money.” “I wasn’t the cover girl. I wasn’t Suzy Parker. But I should’ve been. Maybe if I had had somebody encouraging me,” she says. “But then I got married when I was 19.”

Ok, Martha. First rule in public relations: humility. You may have been more beautiful than Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum combined, but if you were it was in your eyes only.

Second rule in public relations: take responsibility. If you didn’t become cover girl, it wasn’t because you didn’t have someone encouraging you, and it wasn’t because you got married when you were 19. It was either because your heart wasn’t in it, or you really weren’t as pretty as Suzy Parker. And Martha, that’s OK.

2.     On spending time in prison after being convicted of insider trading:
“I don’t consider that a mistake,” says Stewart. “It was a normal thing that people do every day.”

Third rule in public relations: have a clue. If you are convicted of anything, then whatever you did was clearly a mistake. And never pull the lemming aka “everyone else is doing it” card. The rest of us are not looking for an excuse to carjack an SUV or hold up a convenience store under the guise that it’s “normal” because people “do it every day.”

3.     On planning to write her autobiography:
“I have my title and everything,” she says of her plans to someday write that book. “I’ve led such an interesting and complicated life that it’s getting to be time to record it.”

See rules 1 – 3, and then say the same thing a little differently: “I’ve been so fortunate to lead a life I’ve found to be interesting and complicated. I think others may find it interesting too.”

Subtle change, and not quite so obnoxious.

What are your favorite Martha gaffes? That time she picked on Rachael Ray?  Or maybe the time she told CEO of Macy’s (and her former friend) that opening hundreds of boutique Martha Stewart stores inside JC Penney wouldn’t conflict with her contract with Macy’s and would in fact be “good for Macy’s.

Feel free to weigh in.