Meeting Martha Stewart
It’s a journalistic cliché to say that you should never meet your idols, although when M&M met Martha, she didn’t disappoint. This is a woman who has made a sustained career, and empire, out of being ‘Martha Stewart’, and within seconds of seeing her up close, you can see how. When she took to the stage at the IPG Women in Media breakfast in Cannes, she looked every inch the domestic goddess that has brought gracious living to print and TV for the past four decades.
I was in Cannes with my colleague Martina, features editor at M&M. And we arrived at the Majestic Hotel bright and early to secure front row seats to see Martha. Any remnants of a hangover from too many Camparis the night before were quickly forgotten in the excitement. Rumours of Martha sightings on the Croissette abounded. We took our seats, and then moved because a pillar potentially interfered with a clear view of Martha. As more people arrived, the nervous anticipation grew. What would she look like? What would she say? Would she talk about prison?
The women in media presentation didn’t hold any surprises. There were some statistics from Sylvia Ann Hewlett about women at the top of the profession that were either familiar or predictable, followed by a panel discussion with a number of women from brands and agencies. Panel discussions are only really interesting when you have debate, but listening to six women agree with each other for 40 minutes is never going to make for a compelling viewing. Fortunately, the panel included the deeply fabulous Wendy Clark from Coca-Cola. Clark is one of those marketers who bring both talent and star quality to the profession. Unintentional comedy was present on the panel courtesy of one marketer, who shall remain nameless, whose hair reacted so badly to the Cannes humidity that it offered some much needed comedic respite as it turned afro before our eyes. I had to leave the room on two separate occasions because of giggling.
Martha was introduced on stage by Soledad O’Brien, famous to American TV viewers for her stints on NBC and CNN, and as they sat down to chat Martha’s media magic quickly became apparent. The woman has a knack for dealing with the media. She is a media mogul of the highest order (anyone with ‘omnimedia’ appearing after their name surely qualifies as a media mogul), and that isn’t a position one reaches without knowing how to deal with the media, and the public. O’Brien gamely tried to tease insight and revelation from the conversation, but it quickly became obvious that O’Brien’s agenda was irrelevant. Martha Stewart knows exactly what she’s going to say to a journalist before they even ask the questions, and the disconnect between O’Brien’s questions and Stewart’s replies made for bizarre, but compelling viewing.
She talked candidly about her career, her regrets and her ambitions. She even talked about her spell in prison – although I was disappointed that there were no fruity stories about teaching the other inmates how to fold their bed linen, or craft a homemade shiv from an old toothbrush.
As the time for Martina’s private audience approached, I could see she was nervous but excited. Like the good friend and colleague I am, I abandoned her to go and sit in the sunshine and interview Wendy Clark. What follows is a third hand account of when Martha met M&M.
Normally, press interviews are conducted in offices, restaurants or coffee shops. It’s probably fair to say that when Martina was at college studying to be a journalist, dreaming of the day she might get to meet Martha Stewart, she didn’t think such a meeting would take place in a hotel storeroom. Understandably she was disappointed with the dark and dirty location that had been arranged by the conference organisers for the interview - as was Martha.
When Martha entered the room, or shall we say the dumping ground for broken hotel furniture, she proclaimed that “no one should sit in a room like this” and instructed that the interview should take place in the hotel lobby, where it did and you can read Martina’s interview here.
When you’re a name like Martha Stewart, having an entourage is a fact of life. Martha’s publicist came from the school of pushy PR, where directness is confused with rudeness, and everyone thinks they’re Samantha Jones from Sex in the City.
“One minute,” chimed ‘Samantha’, when there was clearly five minutes left for the meeting. She went on to remind everyone there was “one minute left” for each of the remaining four minutes. I appreciate that everyone has a job to do, but a bit of courtesy and diplomacy costs nothing.
Keen to demonstrate her knowledge of all things Martha, Martina ended the interview by sharing the two ways the domestic goddess had changed her life. Martha nodded in approval, with the polite grace of someone who probably hears this kind of thing on a daily if not hourly basis. One of these important life lessons involves the trick of folding a fitted sheet flat, a technique which has acquired a near mythic status back in the editorial office.
Samantha eventually had her way, and the audience with Martha was over. “What are we doing now? Are we going for lunch?” asked Martha. “Yes, we’re going to go to lunch now, the car is outside,” replies Samantha.
Martha remains seated. “Are you going back to the hotel to get changed first?” Everyone turns to look at the PR.
“I was going to wear this” replies Samantha. Everyone looks back at Martha.
Samantha has unwittingly walked into a trap. The hotel lobby falls silent, even the hotel staff who are bustling around are watching Martha for her reaction to what is a clear act of defiance from one of Martha’s minions.
Martha’s response is delivered with a quiet, amiable tone which comes loaded with an unquestionable air of authority “So, you don’t think that you need to get changed?” Back to the publicist.
Samantha looks down at her outfit, a little linen number clearly picked out to counter the Cannes heat, “I guess I can go to the hotel first and get changed.”
The PR knows she’s beaten, and makes her excuses to go. Everyone in the lobby finally breaths out. When the mortals in Greek mythology encounter their gods, they come away dazed and confused. And this lot have just seen Martha Stewart in action.