Martha Stewart Cooks Up a New Image

 Martha Stewart Cooks Up a New Image

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Martha Stewart.

Martha Stewart was very busy over the Thanksgiving – and not just cooking up a feast. The guru of home entertaining was featured in both The New York Times and The Financial Times. Both  articles were presumably designed to calm investor nerves about her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which recently announced layoffs and financial losses.

The NYT glowingly described Martha as the new “patron saint” of the hipster entrepreneurial class while the FT gave Ms. Stewart multiple opportunities to talk about planned and current business initiatives (good for the stock price). And neither failed to mention her time in the clink.

Martha gave the FT passing acknowledgment of her prison sentence for lying to prosecutors about a stock sale, while the NYT asked her fan base for its opinion. Luckily, the responses were consistently positive. One fan, who referred to Martha as “The Jesus of the craft world,” said, “I heard that she just took some bad advice. Anybody can make mistakes.” Martha, from what she told the FT, takes a similar view.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) to Martha Stewart for putting a tough period behind her. It’s even given her street cred!

The PR Takeaway: Set the tone, and others will follow. While prison time might have theoretically ruined the image of the perfect homemaker, Martha Stewart has been able to successfully move on. Parting with the traditional PR strategy of public atonement, Martha instead describes her prison time as “a hole I fell into; luckily it wasn’t a very deep hole,” while adding that the experience didn’t teach her much. From the outset she has been unrepentant, and now her new followers are taking the same line of indifference. In the age of labored public apologies, this is one strategy that  is breaking the mold. And Martha’s expanded fan base seems to like it.

Click here for Martha’s FT interview and New York TImes feature.

What’s your opinion of Martha Stewart’s strategy? Give us your PR Verdict!

Crime and Punishment – and Payment

 Crime and Punishment   and Payment

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the US Government. (Pictured: Bank fraud whistle blower Brad Birkenfeld)

Who knew that whistle blowing could be so profitable? Bradley Birkenfeld, a former private banker for one of the leading Swiss banks, just landed a cool $104 million as his reward for ratting on his former employer. Big headlines yesterday, but as the news broke, Bradley wasn’t photographed in a glamourous nightspot celebrating his new win. He was in New Hampshire finishing his 40-month jail term in home confinement.

His evidence relating to tax evasion and non-declaration of foreign accounts has netted the US government over $5 billion, but that wasn’t enough to protect him from criminal charges. Prosecutors were unhappy with his previously withholding information about his own clients at the bank, which earned him 40 months in jail.

On the face of it, this seems a perverse result. But under existing legislation the Internal Revenue Service can pay whistleblower awards of up to 30 percent of the collected proceeds. Birkenfeld’s payment is being touted as proof that the US government is committed to rewarding courageous whistle blowers. The PR sting in the message is that ratting on others doesn’t give you immunity; not such a lottery win after all. The US government sent a clear signal that Brad is no angel, yet they’re no welchers.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the US Government. Sending mixed signals is sometimes the only way to accomplish goals. Complicated, yes; confusing, no.

The PR Takeaway: Bitter and sweet can live together, even if it seems sometimes counterintuitive. Birkenfeld’s payment sends a clear signal that the government takes the issue of fraud, and reward for whistle blowing, seriously, and is willing to share the upside of newfound gains. Yet Birkenfeld paid a personal price for wrongdoing. Birkenfeld, more than anyone, knows this, as he ponders his newfound fortune – and his ankle brace.

Should government entities send mixed messages of punishment and reward? Should Birkenfeld have received his whistle-blower payment even though he was sentenced? Give us your PR Verdict!