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Martha, Martha, Martha! What Martha is Teaching Us

Are we sick of Martha Stewart yet?

The media is about five minutes away from overkill on the Martha Stewart story, but don’t expect that to stop editors and producers from pushing for more Martha stories. The domestic Goddess makes for good ink and exciting television play. A&E, the normally staid entertainment network, is rushing out a Martha program and is promoting it by using sound bites from the federal prosecutor’s press conference announcing Martha’s indictment.

Martha is not going away anytime soon (well, she’s not going “away” when it comes to the media at least) and she’s already laying down an impressive PR barrage. Let’s see what Martha can teach us.

1. Use The Web

Just hours after she was indicted, Martha launched MarthaTalks.com, a website aimed at bringing her side of the story to the masses. More than six million people have visited the website and over 40,000 people have sent Martha emails expressing support, according to Stewart’s handlers.

“This is brilliant. She is shoring up her base, and simultaneously getting ready for a trial,” Seth Siegel, co-founder of The Beanstalk Group, a trademark licensing agency, told the Associated Press.

I wouldn’t call the move brilliant, more like obvious. Ford launched a website two years ago when tires began exploding on its Explorer vehicles. The Ford website was equal parts consumer information and spin. It didn’t help the company.

Martha’s case is different though. She’s using the web to formulate a groundswell of public support — a grassroots campaign from a corporate titan. The irony is deafening.

If nothing else, MarthaTalks.com is further evidence that the web is an amazing marketing and PR tool. And it also proves that in a time of crisis, when the media is “out to get you,” the web can be a salvation.

The website is a total PR play of course. Martha’s new PR firm, Citigate Sard Verbinnen (CSV), registered the website domain for her. Not only that, the domain was registered last Monday — one day before Martha’s company announced that she may be indicted. CSV was on the ball, planning well in advance. Had the website been launched this week, it’s doubtful it would have gotten the same play in the media. Part of the effectiveness of the website is how quickly it was launched. Location isn’t everything, timing plays a big part.

2. Speak From The Heart, And The Mind

MarthaTalks.com provides Martha with a controlled platform to speak. She doesn’t have to worry about handling questions from the media or being caught off guard. Anything published on the site will be carefully checked by the PR people and lawyers. At the same time, Martha’s lawyers are getting plenty of ink.

It’s a good two-pronged approach: Let Martha speak from her heart and let the lawyers speak from their minds. The combined spin speaks to people across the spectrum. Not everyone understands lawyer speak, so Martha’s soothing words are more effective to an audience that only understands the headline, “Martha Indicted.” The lawyers hope they get their point across to people who may have a better understanding of the case — those who understand how serious the obstruction of justice charge against Martha is.

3. Play All Your Cards

It’s crunch time for Martha; she’s got to use it or lose it.

The “it” is any defense possible. Her PR people and lawyers are playing every card they have:

– Martha is being persecuted because she’s a woman.
– Why haven’t the heads of Enron and WorldCom been indicted, but Martha has?
– This is personal.
– This is political.
– The evidence isn’t accurate.
– Martha is innocent and will be vindicated.

In the arena of public opinion, the approach is working. Some people who may have never liked Martha are being drawn into her camp because of these arguments. Will it help her in court? Heck no. But that doesn’t matter because there are two battles going on here: A legal battle and a PR battle.

Only Martha, her lawyers, the prosecutors and the eventual jury can affect the outcome of Martha’s legal case. But right now, she is winning the PR battle. And in the end, that may prove to be a more important victory.

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Mailbag with Ben Silverman

Last week I answered a question about whether or not a PR person should give up their media list to a client.

“I would suggest speaking to the person requesting the list to find out why they want it. It sounds like they’re trying to pull an end around and cut you out of future work by appropriating your list. Personally, I wouldn’t give it up unless I had a commitment for more paid work in the future. A press list is basically intellectual property; you did the work, have weeded out the people who don’t belong on it and the list has an obvious value. People pay for media lists, so why give it up for free? If the client wants the list they should pay for it as part of your service package,” I wrote.

I got a number of responses from people on the issue and I think this one from Joshua L. Weinberg, Director of Communications for Homestead Technologies, Inc., is dead on and sheds light on the issue (and makes my case look stupid!):

“I’ve been in PR on both the agency and client side for about 14 years and here are the thoughts I have developed on this issue…

If the client paid you to develop a media list they have a right to it (along with status report of when they were pitched, met with, etc.). Yes, this gives the client the ability to use someone else for PR or bring it in house. But, if the only thing keeping them from doing this is a press list, the PR person is not adding much value. If a client has made a decision to leave, I’d rather let them go without a fight over a media list with the hopes that I will get references from them in the future — or at a minimum they won’t go away saying nasty things about me.

If the PR person has a large specialized list developed on their own that the client asks for, I’d approach it slightly differently but with the same general approach. I’d feel obligated to give the client the names and status of all the press I contacted on their behalf. Although I wouldn’t feel obligated, I would throw in the contact info. That information is generally easy to obtain from online services, through a few phone calls, from a library, from MDS, etc. Again, I want them to feel good about me and my services whether or not they will be paying me in the future.

The point other than cost to develop, etc. is intellectual property. In most fields of PR I would not have that hard a time recreating someone else’s list if I knew what their goal was. For example I could do a Nexis search on a client and find every reporter who wrote about the client then go to MediaMap and produce a list. But even with that list in hand I couldn’t necessarily take over another PR person’s job. I wouldn’t have a working relationship with the client, an understanding of their business, background in the field, the relationships with the press, etc. My point is (and I hope I didn’t take too long to get to it): A good PR person is much more than their media list.”

Well said Joshua.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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