The reading level for this article is Novice

Whether you think Martha Stewart deserves more, less or no jail time (more than 43% of respondents in a recent USA Today poll thought she should spend more time in jail), the diva of domestic grace is using her time behind bars to boost her PR value sky high.
By going to jail early, sending out heartfelt web letters asking people to donate money to the American Cancer Society charity instead of mailing her money and gifts, and even offering to assist underprivileged women start businesses, Stewart is walking a very public “road to redemption.”

While we can’t really blame Stewart for making the best of a bad situation, we have to wonder what kind of legacy this will create for up-and-coming entrepreneurs and business leaders, not to mention the American public as a whole.

Stewart’s story already had enough rags-to-riches romance to make her a top role model. Add to that her new seemingly humble persona and her place as a societal icon is all but guaranteed. But is what she’s modeling good or bad or America?

Let’s break down exactly what she’s demonstrating, then you can decide for yourself:

<><> Arrogance is Acceptable as Long as You’re Successful <><>
Stewart is guilty of the sin common among most celebrity leaders: hubris. She no doubt began believing everything her PR department put out. She’s been labeled “power mad,” “mean spirited,” and “cruel” in the press, but the media-happy public was willing to accept her and buy her products as long as she was a wealthy public figure.

LESSON: It’s perfectly acceptable to buy products from a power-mad, mean spirited, cruel leader as long as she’s popular and the media likes her.

<><> You Can Recover from Any Fall With a Show of Humbleness <><>
Stewart is making a very public show of humble pie, but let’s take a deeper look at the motivations behind her actions. First, she volunteered to enter prison even when she didn’t have to. Sounds humble, but why did she really do it? She says it’s so she could “be back to work before the spring planting season” (USA
Today, September 15, 2004).

She also offered to help underprivileged women start their own businesses. But this was in fact really a means for her “she could shorten her time in jail by offering to serve part or all of her sentence,” as reported in the July 19 issue of USA Today.
Finally, she has asked people to stop sending gifts and to start donating to the American Cancer Society. Considering that Stewart recently earned a healthy $8 million from sales of Omnimedia stock (her own company), we have to wonder whether it wasreal giving or just a public show of humility.

The net result? Stock climbed to a four-year high this month and has climbed more than 70% since Stewart went behind bars.

LESSON: If you stumble, turn to your PR department for the right “humble” moves to make. It will get you the sympathy vote and keep your stock value high.

<><> Publicity is Always Good <><>
There is no such thing as bad publicity. Stewart made more headlines as a jailbird than she ever did as the guru of gracious living. She has had more opportunities than ever to put her message forth, and attracted the attention of an entirely new
consumer base.

Aside from the curiosity seekers, Americans are a forgiving lot. Says Rob Stearns of the business school at Arizona State University and author of Winning Smart After Losing Big, “Americans will forgive high crimes and misdemeanors and impeachable offenses, but they won’t forgive arrogance.” With her well-oiled PR department and public acts of contrition, Stewart has this angle covered.

LESSON: When the media turns its spotlight on you, use it to your advantage to increase your customer base and brand recognition.

In the aftermath of tragedies like Enron and Tyco, and in a time when we need ethics, values, and soul more than ever, Stewart demonstrates that almost any lack of personal and corporate values can be forgiven if your PR department is good enough.

Stewart has shown us that success and fame are to be envied and sought after, regardless. She demonstrates that being a money hungry “control freak” behind bars is more newsworthy than anything that actually improves the human condition.

While Martha Stewart isn’t to be blamed for the general condition of the media, we suggest that she will emerge from her jail time more hardened and media-savvy. But will she be more socially responsible (notice that her website teaches people how to spend, shop, and consume more graciously than ever but remains mute on good-citizen topics like giving and
donating)? And because she will be more of a role model than ever, what kind of values or the lack of them will she pass on to the next generation of business and public leaders?

This Marketing article was written by The Art of Business on 2/24/2005

Raymond Yeh, PhD, is a senior research fellow at IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. He has been a management consultant to many nations and works with executives of global companies such as IBM, GTE, AT&T, Siemens, and NEC, as well as with founders of many start-up companies. Dr. Yeh has published ten technical books and the highly acclaimed business book titled, “”Zero Time: Providing Instant Customer Value-Every Time, All the Time!”” Contact him at and access his work at

Stephanie Yeh has spent many years in the business world consulting with major corporations around the world, including Fannie Mae, Acer, Tatung, Children’s Hospital of Dallas, and Intergraph on human resource management, process reengineering, and technology assessment. She has also coached numerous corporate executives and small business owners on business strategy and management. Contact her at access her work at