Martha Stewart


Martha Stewart leaves her West Virginia prison this weekend. Decisions must be made.

Strategically, there are three options for the post-prison Martha:

1) act as if nothing happened, carry on as usual.

2) act as if something happened, but acknowledge it only outside the public Martha.

3) act as if something happened, and build it into the public Martha.

To judge from the public pronouncements of the Stewart team, Option 1 beckons. But it’s a terrible idea.

Five months of prison has refashioned Stewart’s image. To pretend otherwise, to return Stewart to her “little miss perfect” persona as a Connecticut arbiter of middle class taste, that’s just crazy. Or to put this another way, there’s always going to be an elephant on the sound stage, and this one’s wearing prison blues.

The old Martha Stewart was forbidding, inaccessible, a goddess of the status heights of Connecticut. She had to stoop to conquer and conquer she did.

This persona (and brand) is destroyed. Thank goodness. Like it or not, Stewart is more interesting and complex than before. She has suffered. She has come down from the mountain. Martha can now claim to know about life, and not just about style. She can feel our pain (having suffered some of her own).

In sum, option 3 is not just an option but an opportunity. The question is whether prison changed Martha Stewart. Is she capable of exhibited this for public purposes? Will the management team she has surrounded herself with rise to the occasion? Open questions, all.

“This blog sits at” wishes her well. And that’s not something any of us would have thought to do before. And that’s a measure of the opportunity.


Barnes, Brooks. 2005. Susan Lyne: Relaunching of Martha: Keeping priorities straight

Fournier, Susan. 2003(?). Harvard Business School Case Study on Martha Stewart.

post script

I am doing another hour on the Debbie Millman show on Voice America today, 3:00 to 4:00 eastern seaboard.

3 thoughts on “Martha Stewart

  1. Steve Portigal

    I have often felt like Martha’s aloof reputation persisted in denial of the reputation itself. In other words, as much as everyone made fun of her for years, as long as the money and success kept pouring in, she didn’t seem to acknowledge or move to change that persona/attitude.

    Has she been humbled enough that she will want to change herself or her public behavior at least in acknowledgement of the need to change, or will the need for denial remain strongest? I suspect the latter, myself.

    Required viewing: Elmo (of Sesame Street) as a guest on her cooking show. He stayed in character; she had no idea what to do with him and at one point the facade cracks pretty seriously when he’s just a little too aggravating. Quite enjoyable.

  2. Ennis

    What, you mean she doesn’t come by to borrow a cup of sugar? And do you think she’ll ever come out of the closet?

  3. me

    I’m betting she goes the “nothing happened” route. It doesn’t cost anything socialogically. People left to their own devices will not relate or care about the whole thing or are even just tired of hearing it. Her prior audience was more concerned with flower arrangements than world politics.

    Doing nothing also dovetails nicely with the whole “payed the debt to society” forgiveness paradigm currently supported by popular media. She’ll be out of the news because her delta will be insubstantial. The question is whether Fox wants to tie a can to her tail and how bored they are.


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