About the time Martha Stewart was sentenced to jail last summer, her company's stock was trading for just over $10 per share, her syndicated television show had been canned and a marketing firm found that consumers viewed her brand name more negatively than Enron's.
Now, with Stewart set for release from federal prison in Alderson, W.Va., next weekend, stock of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. is trading at more than $36 per share, NBC is hyping her two new television shows and -- though public opinion is not back to its all-time high, it is trending there.
Martha Stewart leaves federal court in New York last year after receiving a sentence of five months in prison and five months of home confinement.
(Bebeto Matthews -- AP)
On the Rise Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's stock has risen significantly since Stewart went to jail last October.
Overall, a turn in the pen has turned out to be shrewd strategy for Stewart.
Stewart is the latest example of a long line of accused celebrities, brand-name characters from Wall Street to Hollywood who have run afoul of the law or social custom in an extraordinarily high-profile fashion. From the Chicago Black Sox accused of throwing the 1919 World Series to "junk bond" king Michael Milken, P. Diddy to Jeffrey Skilling, 50 Cent to Willie Nelson to Hugh Grant and Winona Ryder, each has endured scrutiny and prosecutions that have had an impact on their businesses, for good or bad.
The key, say image and brand experts, is how they have handled the situation.
The smart, like Stewart, seize control and move on, minimizing the damage.
"Consumers want the two C's: closure and some contrition," said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys Inc., a New York research firm that has tracked the marketplace perception of Stewart since 2002, when she was accused of obstruction and lying during an investigation into her sale of shares of ImClone Systems shortly before the FDA rejected one of the company's drugs.
"We had the closure, with the sentencing, and some contrition, given her own particular brand of hubris," Passikoff said.
"I must reclaim my good life. I must return to my good works," Stewart said last September when she asked a federal judge to send her to prison right away rather than waiting for the outcome of her appeal.
Once in control, Stewart managed to navigate the five-month minimum-security prison sentence, during which she taught yoga, decorated and crocheted, and emerge with her image enhanced.