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Martha Stewart Talks Social Media at WWD CEO Summit

Martha Stewart discusses her empire and maintaining consumer trust at the WWD Apparel/Retail Summit.

Martha Stewart
Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD/DNR CEO Summit issue 11/17/2009

Martha Stewart doesn’t sleep much. She blogs, tweets, hosts her own daily television show, oversees a magazine business, writes best-selling books and seems to unveil a new partnership every month with a megaretailer like Home Depot.

This story first appeared in the November 17, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“My original goal was no less than omnipresence,” said Stewart during her keynote address. “That was my vision from when the [Martha Stewart Living] magazine launched in 1990.”

 

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SEE VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS FROM MARTHA STEWART’S KEYNOTE ADDRESS>>
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She kidded that even her French bulldogs, Francesca and Sharkey (who have their own blog, The Daily Wag) live a purposeful existence and have a schedule. “If you live at my house, you just have to do something productive,” she said. And while the dogs obviously aren’t writing the blog, one imagines if any dog could do it, it would be one owned by Stewart.

Stewart’s name is synonymous with so many businesses, from cooking to crafts — but as it happens, she has yet to attach her name to a clothing line. “Lots of my fashion-y friends say I should do it,” she noted, to a roomful of fashion executives, many of which are probably more than willing to partner with the media maven.

“In the absence of a Martha Stewart clothing line, we have a lot in common,” she remarked. “I am in the merchandising business. We all want to connect with consumers to reinforce the importance of our brands. Consumers are more likely to turn to trusted brands when making purchases.”

And she knows a thing or two about maintaining consumers’ trust. While Stewart tended to her own legal imbroglios and eventually served a prison sentence in 2004 for lying and obstructing justice, she said her loyal followers were with her every step of the way. “We did not lose our consumer,” she noted. “We had trouble with our advertisers and that was understandable — companies with stocks that answer to their shareholders — but the consumer did not depart. They are happy with our magazines, television show, books and especially happy with the products we designed.”

She added that Robin Marino [president of merchandising] reads every letter and e-mail. “We’ve received more than one million e-mails and letters, and they answer every piece of correspondence.”

Personally, Stewart said she keeps in constant contact with consumers through her various Web sites, blogs and on Twitter. She’s heard from numerous bloggers baking their way through her various cookbooks, thanks to the movie “Julie & Julia” — and her blog at themarthablog.com, attracts seven million monthly page views. “One thing I’ve learned is the importance of communication with customers,” Stewart said. “You don’t have to be a media company to do it. Social media tools are accessible to everyone in this room.”

A few weeks ago Stewart posted a behind-the-scenes look at her life on the blog and it garnered almost a million page views in two days. “We feature eight different blogs on our Web sites,” she noted. “You should extend where you have brand equity.” During the past week or so, Stewart has posted varied updates and pictures on The Martha Blog, related to the gala for the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mount Sinai on Wednesday evening, to what kind of flowering bulbs she’s ordered and a look at her upcoming interview on “Nightline.” Cynthia McFadden, one of the co-anchors, came to Stewart’s home in Bedford, N.Y., and then tagged along during the day, to find out how Stewart spends a typical day.

On Twitter, Stewart requests participation from her followers. “Get on the Twitter bandwagon,” she suggested, adding she only spends five minutes a day doing it. “Just got home, let out the dogs, within minutes they cornered, attacked and killed an opossum. Had to wash little bloody mouths. Life on farm,” Stewart tweeted a few days ago. In eight short months, Stewart has managed to get 1.67 million mostly active followers. “Martha Stewart Living took a year to reach one million subscribers,” Stewart noted.

“This is almost instantaneous stewardship of a brand,” Stewart said, of Twitter. “You have to be where the customer is, where they need and want you.” Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. also has three Web sites, Wholeliving.com, Marthastewart.com and Marthastewartweddings.com. Combined, the sites attract 6 million unique visitors.

Stewart claims she has 37 million engaged viewers, readers, listeners and consumers following her brand, with products sold in more than 5,000 retail stores in the U.S. and overseas. “We think we know how to appeal to the consumer in many different ways,” said Stewart. “We have a nice, robust merchandising business and we are not slowing down.”

Stewart began the company by launching Martha Stewart Living magazine and has since added Everyday Food, Body + Soul, Martha Stewart Weddings and shelter title Blueprint, which shuttered a few years ago. Magazine publishers across the board continue to face a challenging advertising environment and at MSLO, the publishing division recently posted a 21 percent drop in revenues for the third quarter, to $27.1 million, due to a decline in ad pages, subscription revenue and lower newsstand sales. The division also reported an operating loss of $2.5 million, compared with a gain of $2.1 million last year. Revenues at the company’s Internet business fell 6 percent to $2.8 million and the division reported an operating loss of $2.1 million, versus a loss of $1.5 million the prior year. The company’s digital properties had record traffic in October, with 131.4 million page views and 5.6 million unique visitors. Total revenues for the company fell 25 percent to $49.7 million and MSLO increased its net loss to $12.1 million, from $3.7 million a year ago.

In the fourth quarter, the company expects a substantial improvement in performance across all businesses. Print ad revenue during the period is expected to be flat compared with the prior year, an improvement over the previous three quarters, which were down more than 20 percent. And Internet advertising is expected to post double-digit growth. The December issue of Martha Stewart Living will be the largest issue this year, up 21 percent to 161 ad pages. It will have a triple cover, sponsored by Garnier Nutritioniste.

Meanwhile, the company recently reported Stewart has agreed to a new contract, set to expire March 31, 2012 (around the same time she will be eligible to become chief executive officer of the company). As part of the agreement, Stewart is entitled to $2 million a year, in addition to an annual bonus as determined by the compensation committee, with a target equal to $1 million and a maximum of 150 percent of that amount. Upon signing the contract, Stewart was paid $3 million.

Stewart seems to be working in overdrive these days, as MSLO continues to grow its home, gardening, crafts, holiday, pets, whole living, cooking and entertaining and weddings businesses. She has expanded her craft offerings as of late, and after a recent appearance on “The Jay Leno Show,” where she taught Leno how to “glitter by numbers,” she sold three million jars of glitter. In just the past year, the company has partnered with Hain Celestial, Crane & Co., Sandals, Home Depot and PetSmart. “The harder you work, especially right now, the better things will get,” Stewart advised.