More Trouble for Martha Stewart: Not a “Good Thing”

 More Trouble for Martha Stewart: Not a Good Thing

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart and J.C. Penney.

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.

Another Trump-ed Up Lawsuit

 Another Trump ed Up Lawsuit

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for Donald Trump.

The Donald is at it again. Real estate magnate and reality TV show star Donald Trump announced yesterday that he is suing comedian and talk show host Bill Maher for $5 million dollars. Why? Maher jokingly asked Trump to prove via a birth certificate that he wasn’t fathered by an orangutan.

This was, of course, Maher’s take on Trump’s infamous “birther” challenge, in which Trump offered to donate $5 million to the charity of President Obama’s choice if he would show a birth certificate proving he was born in Hawaii. The President refused to engage and the whole thing blew over faster than Trump’s hair at the helipad.

Now Trump has risen to Maher’s bait, brandishing a birth certificate that lists his father as Fred Trump (not an orangutan). He announced the lawsuit to – where else? Fox & Friends, and – when else? Just as his reality show, The Apprentice, is starting another run. Trump says he’s going to donate the money to charity, and no, he didn’t think Maher’s comment was a joke. Maher’s Tweeted response: “What?? Really? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha,” endquote.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for Donald Trump. This is just business as usual in his PR stunt-ridden world.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The old saw about there being no such thing as bad publicity is a lie. Drumming up publicity for one’s TV show with a news-grabbing stunt is a wise move, but why always be the man we love to hate? Instead of humorlessly producing a birth certificate and ordering Maher to pay up, why not turn the joke to advantage by offering to donate the $5 million to the charity of Maher’s choice? Then Trump would have his publicity and appear to be the bigger man, and a generous one – as everyone knows he can afford to be. By doing it his way, Trump comes across as a bully and a blowhard. Well, at least he’s on brand.