Martha Stewart has had more than her share of embarrassing public moments lately. Two of her offshoot magazines had to be co-opted into her regular publication, Martha Stewart Living, due to poor newsstand sales. And yesterday, the head of Macy’s department stores, Terry Lundgren said that Martha made him “sick.”
The cause of Macy’s CEO upset wasn’t Martha’s recipe for dinner, but rather her recipe for success. Stewart allegedly phoned Lungdren in December 2011 to tell the CEO that she’d inked a merchandising deal with rival retailer J.C. Penney. This took Macy’s by surprise. Lundgren thought their deal, struck in 2007, to sell Martha Stewart cookware, bedding, and other products was exclusive. “I was completely shocked and blown away,” Lundgren testified at a court hearing this week, “I was literally sick to my stomach.” He further testified that Stewart claimed in their phone call that the deal with JC Penney would be good for Macy’s. At that point Lundgren hung up on Stewart.
JC Penney claims the deal was vital to their rebranding and vital to Martha, who also sold them 17 percent of her company. But the legal question and PR problem is how did Martha think she might get away with the deal to sell her home products through a department store, when she already had a deal to do just that.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart, and for J.C. Penney; Macy’s has now won a court injunction to temporarily block Penney’s from selling Martha Stewart products.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Business is cutthroat, but reputations can be preserved by being above board. Sure, everyone loves a dramatic under-the-table deal – in the movies. But in real life the dealmaker comes off as untrustworthy and from the PR standpoint, desperate. Stewart already had publicly-known problems with her corporation; JC Penney’s flagging sales have led to a massive and risky revamp of their stores. Each party needed the other, and each had to know that Macy’s wouldn’t take this lying down, not even on 400 thread-count percale sheets in Blossom Yellow. The repercussions will illustrate yet again that there is such a thing as bad publicity.