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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
Martha Stewart: What should she do next?
Stephen Evans
By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

Martha Stewart outside court
Are the Oscars open to convicted business leaders?

The US lifestyle guru who on Friday was sentenced to five months in jail and five months of house arrest over charges of conspiracy and obstruction faces some tough decisions. Could this be a possible way forward?

Memo to Martha Stewart:

"Friday's surge in the price of stock in your company was partly because the sentence was as low as it gets, but partly because your performance on the steps of the court moved the hearts - and the wallets - of your many fans. They still love you out there.

"I recommend the following actions: (1) enquire if the Oscars are open to convicted business leaders who make heartfelt pleas to buy their products from the court steps; (2) don't appeal against the sentence. Serve your time."

So might be the advice of a fictitious, savvy "public relations consultant".

Martyr

There is a conventional view that sending Stewart to jail for lying to investigators would damage her reputation. It may not turn out like that, though.

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart: Is she a martyr...
Martha Stewart is canny and tough. You know that just by listening to her brazen sales pitch from the court itself:

"Perhaps all of you out there can continue to show your support by subscribing to our magazines, by buying our products, by encouraging our advertisers to come back in full force to our magazines."

So any fictitious, astute PR consultant might counsel against an appeal to the court for more mercy.

The trick then would be to rebrand Martha the criminal as "Martha the Martyr". A master of spin might suggest a press conference at which Stewart re-professed her innocence and her sense of being wronged.

Serving time

Her speech might run like this: "I continue to believe I am the victim of unfair treatment but the pain has gone on too long for my friends and family.

Martha Stewart
...or just an ordinary criminal?
"It is time to draw a line under this sad episode for their sake and for the sakes of all those loyal friends who have supported me for so long.

"I will not appeal against the sentence. I will serve my time."

Exit Stewart towards correctional institute, pursued by TV crews.

Certainty

It is, of course, a fanciful account, but it may still be the wisest course for the Domestic Diva (Home-making Maven/Do-it-yourself Diva - choose according to tabloid of choice).

Martha Stewart
Could Martha Stewart pull off a shrewd publicity coup?
Firstly, it would remove the uncertainty hanging over the way her company will now be run - and the prospect of the end of that uncertain was partly behind the 37% jump in the share price which started even before the lightness of the sentence was known.

Secondly, it would be a brilliant publicity coup, softening the views of many who believe Martha Stewart should be hammered for lying to the authorities about her share-dealings.

But it is the removal of uncertainty that would be the main boon. Her legal status is now in doubt. In prison, she would be barred from taking any part in running the company which she still owns though she is no longer either its chief executive or chairman.

Outside prison, with an appeal grinding through the courts, her real role would not be clear, particularly to investors.

Ego

A swift eating of porridge would also mean a swift return to celebrity.

Martha Stewart
Will Martha Stewart emerge as a greater celebrity after prison?
Stewart's television show has already been suspended and it is hard to see that being reversed with litigation continuing.

But she might emerge as a greater celebrity after prison. Public sympathy would be immense.

Advertising in her magazines has dropped by half and that might reverse more quickly the sooner the legal matter is resolved.

The difficulty is that these matters are not always about wisdom. Ego may also come into play.


SEE ALSO:
US press sums up Stewart fall
17 Jul 04  |  Americas
Five months in jail for Stewart
16 Jul 04  |  Business


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