How does one even begin to describe the last decade in Martha Stewart’s life? I don’t think it’s outrageous of me to call it a turbulent one. Looking back over the last ten years of Martha’s evolution, it really is remarkable how much she and her company endured and accomplished. As we usher in the New Year, I felt it was fitting to glance back at the last ten years of drama, upheaval, change and triumph in Martha’s world.
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS:
Obviously, the event of most glaring importance over the last ten years in Martha’s world was her indictment, trial and subsequent prison time. It caused such a massive outpouring of emotion and debate among every journalist, commentator, biographer and pop-culture hound in America – and beyond!
Between 2003 and 2005, it was impossible to avoid the name “Martha Stewart.” Every television channel, every tabloid, every news magazine was flashing her name and face with a furor not seen since the OJ Simpson trial. Her alleged crime: lying to federal investigators about an ill-timed, personal stock sale of ImClone worth $45,000, which she allegedly conspired to cover up with her stock broker, Peter Bacanovic. (Note that “insider trading” appears nowhere in the indictment!)
Martha spoke with Barbara Walters about how the entire situation affected her life, her company and her employees in a 2003 interview.
One phone call to her stockbroker in 2001 eventually cost Martha over a billion dollars in personal wealth (lost stock value in her own company, legal fees and lost company revenue due to the scandal) as well as her personal freedom. No one would have guessed in 1999, when Martha became a self-made billionaire by taking her eponymous company public, that just five years later she would be sitting in a prison cell in West Virginia. It was a horrible time.
In the few years of the decade prior to her indictment, things at MSLO were going beautifully. The magazine was boasting its best subscription rates ever with incredible newsstand sales and the stock value was steadily above $20 a share. The TV show was still a big hit, winning numerous Emmy Awards each year. Merchandising deals were proving to be lucrative and the company had begun to expand overseas with new ventures in Japan. In publishing, the company had developed several new special issue publications, including one called Baby and one called Kids. A new digest cooking magazine called Everyday Food was also launched in 2003. The company had all the appearances of a prosperous and thriving media business.
But all of that changed in the wake of Martha’s trial: the television show was cancelled, dozens of employees lost their jobs, the magazine suffered from a loss of ad revenue and poor newsstand sales. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia looked more like a sinking ship than a thriving company. To counteract some of the negativity, Martha launched a new website called MarthaTalks.com. On the site, she could post favourable articles about her case while also rallying her fans to write letters of support. Fans, it seems, didn’t need much urging. A new site called SaveMartha.com emerged. Founded by New Yorker John Small, it quickly became a national hit, with millions of people buying “Save Martha” t-shirts, mugs and baseball caps. (I wrote for the site for several years, in partnership with John, shown below. It was a blast to be a part of it!)
But the trouble for Martha and her company did not just exist in the media. Internally, too, the company was fraught with change and difficulty. Several corporate lawsuits emerged in the wake of Martha’s charges (as well as a civil suit against Martha by the SEC) and nothing at Omnimedia, it seemed, was without legal scrutiny. Corporate restructuring was necessary after Martha stepped down as Chairman and CEO of her company. Sharon Patrick, who was then president of the company, took over the CEO role while Jeffrey Ubben assumed the role of chairman while Martha was in prison.
Before Martha was released, however, Sharon Patrick resigned amid rumours that she had become something of a black sheep at the company, taking it in a direction that was not in line with the values and needs of the shareholders, employees and its founder, Martha Stewart. Patrick was replaced by the amazing Susan Lyne, founder of Premiere magazine and a former programming director at ABC. (She resigned in 2008 and was replaced by co-CEOs Wenda Harris-Millard and Robin Marino. Harris-Millard stepped down in 2009.)
Jeffrey Ubben, too, departed swiftly from the chairman’s seat. He was replaced by Charles Koppelman, formerly the CEO of EMI music. Also brought on board to help resurrect the television department at Martha Stewart Living was producer extraordinaire Mark Burnett, producer of Survivor and The Apprentice.
With the new partners securely in the driver’s seat, Martha was poised for a successful return to business after her house arrest expired in September, 2005.
First on offer were two new television programs. One was a talk show taped live in front of a studio audience in a new studio in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. The other was a reality TV series, a spinoff of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.” Both programs got off to a rocky start with mixed reviews from audiences and critics. “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” fared worst of all. It was met with disastrous ratings and television executives were not even sure it would last the season. The Martha Stewart Show, on the other hand, climbed steadily in the ratings and has been renewed five years in a row.
The talk show played two important roles in Martha’s post-prison comeback: to get her back in the public eye in a way that was flattering and disconnected from her trial and to portray her as someone likeable and interactive, someone hands-on who could also make the occasional mistake and laugh about it with her guests in front of an audience of her fans. On both counts it was successful.
Many of Martha’s long-time television watchers expressed concern about the quality of the programming in the beginning. They missed the instructive tone of the Martha Stewart Living television show and were not entirely comfortable with the new, live format. The hurried pace of some of the segments and the bevy of celebrity guests proved unpalatable for some viewers. Still, Martha gained new viewers with the new format and the loyal core of her supporters would watch Martha no matter what format she appeared in. People could also now listen to Martha, all day long, on the company’s new Sirius Satellite Radio station, Martha Stewart Living Radio. With original lifestyle programming and a chance to speak one-on-one with Martha several times a week, it proved to be a huge success.
On the publishing front, Martha released her first memoir of sorts in her post-prison afterglow. The Martha Rules, released just a month after her release from jail, was a book that outlined a pattern for entrepreneurial success, according to Martha. A new kind of ‘how-to’ book, it attempted to teach passionate people with an idea for a product or a business how to realize the dream. Following closely on its heels was The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, a large tome on baking filled with beautiful photography and excellent recipes, reminding everyone why we turn to Martha first.
The company also developed a new, glossy magazine for younger readers called Blueprint. Issued twice in 2006 and then bi-monthly in 2007, it promised Martha Stewart content with a younger edge: decorating, cooking and gardening components were all there, as were fashion and beauty articles. Sadly, the magazine did not last and it published its final issue in February, 2008.
The company also acquired Body + Soul magazine in the spring of 2005. Implementing a full redesign of the health and lifestyle magazine, the company expanded its mandate to include healthy and happy living, gaining a new audience in the process. The company’s flagship, Martha Stewart Living, saw several redesigns during the last decade as part of its continuing evolution and it remains the company’s most popular offering. Supporting publications, such as Martha Stewart Weddings and Everyday Food continue to be highly successful.
On the retail front, Martha’s biggest new launch was the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. With over 2000 new products bearing her name, it marked a significant stride forward into merchandising for the company, even as her lucrative, 23-year deal with Kmart expires in 2010. After her direct-commerce catalog, Martha By Mail, folded in 2004, Martha was keen to bring her company’s unique housewares back to market. The Macy’s line answered much of the demand but Martha also developed several new furniture lines with Bernhardt furniture makers, new house-plans and housing developments with KB Homes, new lines of rugs and carpets, lighting, and a hugely-successful new line of craft products (Martha Stewart Crafts) available at Michael’s and Walmart.
For its successes and failures, triumphs and losses, I will definitely have to qualify the first decade of the new millennium in Martha’s life as the most crucial. What I think it all proves is that Martha can really survive just about anything. It also proves that optimism, persistence, drive and sheer will can get a person through the darkest of times. Martha’s openness to change, too, has been instrumental to her lasting success. Her post-prison motto sums it up nicely: “When you’re through changing, you’re through.”
Below are various lists of the happenings in Martha’s world between 2000 and 2009:
COMINGS AND GOINGS AT MSLO, 2000 - 2009:
·Editors-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living:
Stephen Drucker (1997 – 2001), Douglas Brenner (2001 – 2002), Margaret Roach (2002 – 2007), Michael Boodro (2007 – 2009), Gael Towey (2009)
Martha Stewart Baby (2000 – 2003), Martha Stewart Holiday (2000 - present), Martha Stewart Kids (2001 – 2006); Everyday Food (2003 – present); Good Things (2004 – 2008), Blueprint (2006 – 2008)
·Chief Executive Officers:
Sharon Patrick (stepped down in 2005); Susan Lyne (2005 – 2008); Wenda Harris Millard (2008 – 2009); Robin Marino (2008 to present)
Martha Stewart (stepped down in 2004), Jeffrey Ubben (2004 – 2005), Charles Koppelman (2005 to present)
·Martha Stewart Television:
Martha Stewart Living TV show (cancelled in 2004); The Martha Stewart Show (debuted September, 2005); Martha Stewart Apprentice (debuted October, 2005, and was not renewed for a second season); Petkeeping with Marc Morrone (2003 – 2006); Everyday Food (debuted on PBS in 2005); Everyday Baking with John Barricelli (debuted 2009)
Over the last decade, Martha launched new product lines with the following retailers: Macy’s, Michael’s craft stores, Bernhardt, KB Homes, Flor, Safavieh, Murray Feiss, Wedgwood, Waterford, Lowe’s, Walmart, Home Depot, Kirkland, 1-800-Flowers, Grandin Road, Kitchenaid, SVP Worldwide, QVC, Warner Bros. Home Video, Emeril Legasse (MSLO acquired the rights to his business assets in 2008.)
MARTHA STEWART BOOKS, 2000 – 2009:
Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home
Published October 13, 2009
Martha Stewart's Cupcakes
Published June 2, 2009
Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts
Published March 31, 2009
Martha Stewart's Cooking School
Published October 21, 2008
Martha Stewart’s Cookies
Published March, 2008
Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes
Published December, 2007
Martha Stewart Living Cookbook New Classics
Published October, 2007
The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook Original Classics
Published September, 2007
Everyday Food Cookbook
Published May, 2007
Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook
Published October 31, 2006
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Published November 1, 2005
The Martha Rules
Published October 11, 2005
Martha Stewart Living Recipes 2005
Published November 2004
Simple Home Solutions
Published July 6, 2004
Martha Stewart Living Recipes 2004
Published November 18, 2003
The Christmas Cookbookwith Martha Stewart Living
Published September 30, 2003
Martha Stewart's Keepsake Wedding Planner
Published August 26, 2003
Good Things for Easy Entertaining
Published March 25, 2003
Martha Stewart Living Recipes 2003
Published November 28, 2002
What to Have for Dinner
Published October 8, 2002
Classic Crafts and Recipes Inspired by the Songs of Christmas
Published August 27, 2002
Good Things from Tag Sales and Flea Markets
Published May 21, 2002
Decorating with Color
Published March 5, 2002
Martha Stewart Living Recipes 2002
Published November 12, 2001
Published October 1, 2001
Published September 25, 2001
Classic Crafts and Recipes for the Holidays
Published September 11, 2001
Published August 28, 2001
Favorite Comfort Food
Published July 27, 2001
Good Things for Organizing
Published May, 2001
The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook
Published October 10, 2000
Parties and Projects for the Holidays
Published September 12, 2000
BOOKS WRITTEN ABOUT MARTHA:
Martha Inc. The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.
By Christopher Byron
By Lloyd Allen
Martha: On Trial, In Jail and On a Comeback
By Robert Slater
Martha Stewart’s Legal Troubles
By Joan MacLeod Hemmingway
Resilience: Living in Prison with Martha Stewart
By Rhonda Turpin
ON THE WEB:
·Martha by Mail – The Catalog for Living shuts down, spring 2004.
·MarthaTalks.com is launched in 2004. It shut down in 2005.
·MarthaStewart.com is redesigned and relaunched in 2006. (Numerous blogs are formed, including the Crafts Department, Dinner Tonight, The Bride’s Guide, etc.)
·Martha purchases her 153-acre farm in Westchester County, New York, in 2000 for $25-million. Extensive renovations begin with architect Allan Greenberg.
·Martha sells her Gordon Bunshaft-designed home in the Hamptons for $9-million in 2005. It is later torn down by the new owner, Donald Maharam.
·Martha sells her Richard Meier penthouse on Perry Street for $8-million in 2005. (She never actually moved in.)
·Martha purchases a Richard Meier penthouse for $16-million in 2006 but gives it to her daughter, Alexis. (Alexis is currently living there with her two children.)
·Martha sells her beloved Turkey Hill estate in Connecticut for $8-million in 2007.