Martha Stewart and Her Communication Faux Pax
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
Martha Stewart is quickly becoming the poster child for how not
to communicate in a crisis. Stewart who has made a reputation for
herself as always knowing the right thing to say or how to act at
a dinner party (be it your own or someone else's) is clearly clueless
about how to communicate in connection with her stock scandal controversy.
I don't know what Martha Stewart did or didn't do in connection
with her selling ImClone stock the day before the company stock
tanked. I don't know if she had insider information that she swears
she didn't have. All I know is that she looks and sounds awfully
uncomfortable when talking about this whole mess.
Stewart's most recent communication debacle came on last week's
"The Early Show" on CBS in which she appears as a regular
contributor talking about some domestic issue or other. Apparently,
CBS news honchos decided they couldn't have Stewart talking about
how to handle your Fourth of July party without asking her about
the inside trading scandal. Word is, Stewart knew she would be asked
about it, but apparently had no idea how to handle it when it came
She started out by saying, "I think this will all be resolved
in the near future and I will be exonerated from this ridiculousness."
She then insisted, "We are going to make salad." Stewart
wanted to talk about her Japanese noodle salad, yet CBS anchor Jane
Clayson felt obliged to ask her about the allegations. In responding,
Stewart refused to make eye contact with her questioner and kept
chopping away at cabbage needed for her special Independence Day
salad. You had to see it to believe it.
Martha Stewart seemed oblivious to how poorly she came off and
how disconcerting it was to see and hear her chopping away with
a really big knife while she professed her innocence. "As you
understand, I'm involved in an investigation which has very serious
I'm just not at liberty at this time to make any
" You can't imagine how ludicrous
she looked and how disingenuous she seemed. Chop-chop, talk about
First, when you can't make eye contact with the person asking you
a question, you tend to look kind of guilty or at best not particularly
confident about what you are saying. But what's the deal with all
the chopping while you are talking? This is serious stuff, Martha.
You can blow it off as merely "ridiculousness." Millions
of people, including those with stock in your company, aren't convinced
that this is all ridiculous. You owe it to people to conduct yourself
in a serious fashion. Your salad can wait. I can't get inside Martha
Stewart's head, but I've got to believe the cabbage chopping, lack
of eye contact and the obsession with the Fourth of July salad has
something to do with how nervous she is about all this.
Further, there some basic rules of crisis communication that Stewart
doesn't understand. Yes, you have to have to communicate your message,
which for her is that all this insider trading stuff will blow over
and is not worth talking about. Yet, your message must appear credible
and believable to the average person. If not, you can repeat it
as many times as you like, but it just won't work. Think Gary Condit
in the Connie Chung interview.
And if you did have some information you weren't supposed to, Martha,
you better tell us now because the other cardinal rule of crisis
communication is that it is better to deliver bad news yourself
than have someone else expose you.
Bottom line? For all Martha Stewart's perfectionist ways, her public
communication around this scandal has been downright embarrassing.
Dr. Steve Adubato coaches and speaks on the subjects of communication
and leadership and is the author of the book "Speak from the
Heart." Write to him at The Star-Ledger, 1 Star-Ledger Plaza,
Newark, NJ 07102, visit his Web site at www.stand-deliver.com,
or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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