P.R. Advice for Martha Stewart

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, June 28, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Is the most organized woman in America falling apart at the seams? The ImClone scandal is getting messier by the day for Martha Stewart with each unflattering headline. Is it time for Stewart to update her to-do list and hire a few spin doctors to spruce up her image?

Joining us now are two PR pros, Fraser Sietel of Emerald Partners Public Relations and co-author of Ideawise joins us from New York. Here in Washington, Eric Denzenhall of Nicholas Denzenhall Communications Management Group and author of Money Wanders.

Welcome to both of you.

Fraser, first to you. Damage control. Does she need to do it?  And what does she do, if she does?

FRASER SIETEL, AUTHOR, IDEAWISE: Well, the -- yes, she needs to do something quickly. The first thing she needs to do is recognize that this is a serious matter.

Her credibility is hanging in the balance, and it's going to take a lot more than cutting cabbage on the CBS kitchen to restore the credibility for her, for her magazine, for her company, for Kmart, for the New York Stock Exchange on whose board she sits.

So the first thing she's got to recognize is to take this very seriously.

VAN SUSTEREN: Eric, Fraser refers to that -- when she was on TV the other morning doing her cooking and she was confronted with a very awkward...

ERIC DENZENHALL, AUTHOR, MONEY WANDERS: It was a very strange thing to say, you know, "I know I'm being asked about insider trading, but get a load of my salad." It doesn't quite work that way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what could she do otherwise? I mean, She can't go into hiding. I mean...

DENZENHALL: She can't. She can't go into hiding, but I think -- here's the basic problem. In a battle between the lawyers and the PR people, the lawyers almost always win. One of the best -- one of the worst things that you can do for your image is go to prison, OK?


DENZENHALL: And she's very aware of that.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the quickest way to go to prison -- I'm not talking about Martha Stewart. But the quickest way to go to prison, usually, is to talk.

DENZENHALL: Is to talk and say something that's going to contradict yourself.

I think the best type of situation that she can do is if I were counseling her, number one, keep your profile low, keep your rhetoric soft, and keep your personal tone humble and stricken.

One of the problems with Martha Stewart is her stock in trade has been the fact that she is perfect. Perfect buys you nothing here. Human buys you a little more, but not in court.

VAN SUSTEREN: Fraser, can she be humble? Isn't someone -- I mean, can't it be -- can't it also be said that someone who's been falsely accused can be indignant?

SIETEL: Absolutely they can be, but, you know, I -- I beg to differ. I think this -- the key is, if she's telling the truth, which is a big "if" here and we don't know the answer -- if she's telling the truth, then the worst thing she can do is hide behind her lawyer and not be seen and come out with these little kitchen shows and so on.

Were I her adviser, if she's telling the truth, I say, "Martha, you go public. You're" -- Eric says she's...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, wait a second. Wait a second, Fraser. Here's the problem, is that when the story first broke, she said that she issued a stop -- an order to her stockbroker to sell the stock when it got below $60.

The first time I read about it was early in October. Then when she talked more about it, it was in November. That could easily be just simply a mistake. But the more you talk, the more those little mistakes you have, and then suddenly you look like maybe you aren't telling the truth. That's the problem.

SIETEL: Here's what I would say. That's a very good point. What I would say to you is this. What she said was that she told her stockbroker she wanted a plan to get rid of the stock if it hit a certain price. She didn't -- she hasn't said anything about issuing a stop loss, which is a very technical SEC term where the brokers have to file.

So, the fact that it's leaked out that there's been no stop loss filed on this doesn't necessarily mean that her statements are a lie. In fact, the only thing...

VAN SUSTEREN: And -- but the problem is you begin to have statements that suddenly look inconsistent with each other, and therein lies the problem, and, all of a sudden, your credibility falls.

But let me go back to you, Eric. Credibility. Before December 27th, where was her sort of public credibility? And has it been tarnished?

DENZENHALL: Well, her public -- her credibility has been tarnished basically because the equity she has -- her company's main asset is her. It's not like General Electric where they make airplane engines and light bulbs. Martha Stewart makes Martha Stewart.

So she has what we call a damaged trust bank, and it's going to be very difficult to get it back. The only way to get it back, first of all, is a court vindication. If she is acquitted, I say go to war. But I think it is a public relations fiction that the entire public wants to be educated about you and your innocence.

And I think one of the problems here is you have all of these stocks scandals where the public is saying, "Wait a minute. Four-billion dollars went where?" But one thing we do understand is a naughty celebrity, and that's why she is such a symbol.

VAN SUSTEREN: And timing is everything. It's not a good time to have this problem.

Gentlemen, thanks. I appreciate it.

SIETEL: Thank you.

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