Vol. 1 No. 15 [Special Issue – October 2011]
A Corporate Hero with Scandal: Lessons Learned from Martha Stewart’s Insider Trading Crisis
Shuhui Sophy Cheng
Department of Communication Arts
Chaoyang University of Technology
168 Jifeng E. Rd. Wufeng District
Taichung 41349, Taiwan
Martha Stewart places her name on her products. She becomes the face of her company and the voice of her brand. When her personal misconduct occurred, she made her company vulnerable and risky as well. This case study examines how Martha Stewart managed her corporate communication when her public image and reputation were tarnished on trial for alleged insider trading scandal. The trial not only led her to prison but also hurt her brand equity. The study shows that Stewart’s early response to her crisis demonstrated lack of situation awareness. In the beginning of her investigation, she kept her public persona intact, ignoring or downplaying her role in it. As a result, what Stewart called “a small personal matter” later became a full -blown crisis. If she had managed her communication in a more timely manner, the magnitude of her crisis might have been minimized. This article also provides detailed insights for organizations to learn from her crisis response strategies.
Keywords: Organizational crisis, Crisis communication, Image restoration 1. Introduction
The personalities of strong business leaders can help shape and enhance their corporate image. In some cases, the leaders become the virtual icon of the corporate brand, lendi ng their personal prestige to the brand and personifying the company. They can also threaten the company when they are involved in a scandal. In this situation, the consequences for the company can be critical as in the Martha Stewart’s insider trading crisis in the United States. The crisis management scholar, Roux-Dufort (2000) points out that corporate crises as “a privileged moment during which to understand things differently” (p. 26). As such, there is a growing body of literature on organizational learning in the wake of corporate crisis (Mitroff, 2002; Shrivastava, 1998). The Stewart case, in particular, drew the attention of media for years. The crisis of Martha Stewart’s insider trading raised the issue about the Martha Stewart’s multiplatform franchise; that is, the media world and homemaking business are intricately interwoven with her persona. Stewart’s empire has an impressive business synergy as shown by her TV programs that promote her magazines, her website which sells her products, and her p roducts which are a link to her TV programs.
She is the face, voice and personality behind the brand and, thus, the two – Stewart and the brand – are inseparable. After Stewart’s personal misconduct, the interlocking nature of her business proved to be vulnerable and risky. Moreover, Stewart’s crisis had both legal and public relations components (Jerome, Moffitt, & Knudsen, 2007). Allegations of insider trading against Martha Stewart led to her imprisonment. Her strategic plan in response to the insider trading accusations and the media attention su rrounding this crisis left Stewart trying to take action to restore her image. In a sense, it is important to understand how Stewart herself and her company managed their corporate communication when her public image and reputation were tarnished under the investigation of the insider trading scandal. This article explores how the high profile iconic Martha Stewart responded when confronted with an organizational crisis that threatened existence. It also provides detailed insights for organizations to learn from her crisis response strategies.
2. Background of Martha Stewart’s Insider Trading
Beginning with the 1982 publication of her book Entertaining, Martha Stewart made a name for herself as a homemaking diva. In September 1997, Stewart became chairperson,...