Martha Stewart Makes Surprise Appearance at UBS Media Investor Conference

Martha Stewart - 2010
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UPDATED: The founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia made brief comments after president Lisa Gersh vowed to return the company to profitability and outlined her plans.

NEW YORK - Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia founder Martha Stewart made a surprise appearance at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference here Wednesday during an investor presentation and Q&A featuring president and COO Lisa Gersh who touted the company's outlook.

On the day of her six-month anniversary with the company, Gersh told the Wall Street crowd "I had a very busy six months" and vowed to continue to work hard, so the branded lifestyle company can "return to profitability and get the most out of our brands."

She said: "This is a company that should be profitable and growing," and all units should come to make a profit over the coming years. MSLO "has not performed at acceptable levels," Gersh emphasized.

"I just want to say hi," Stewart said after she walked into the room at the end of the session and was asked if she had any thoughts. Highlighting that this was her first time back on the business side of the company since she recently rejoined the company's board, she said she wanted to congratulate Gersh and her team on doing "a spectacular job" and being aggressive in a nice way, which she said was "very pleasing" to her.

Asked by The Hollywood Reporter after the UBS session if she could become chairman of the MSLO board again, she said that was "TBD."

The appearances came after MSLO earlier in the day had unveiled a strategic alliance with J.C. Penney that will see the retailer take a 16.6 percent stake in the lifestyle media company.

Emphasizing that MSLO believes in personalities and brands, Gersh said that corporate overhead costs associated with those factors must be part of the firm's cost structure. But she said that her team can take out some cost in support functions, facilities and T&E.

Gersh said that MSLO continues to see its Hallmark Channel programming block as a five-hour block of "valuable real estate" that helps the company "further popularize our brands."

Without mentioning any specific plans, she also said that Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse "can easily attract great audiences on broadcast" - a signal that MSLO, following the end of the run of Stewart's syndicated TV show and the Hallmark deal, could be eyeing broadcast opportunities.

Stewart later told THR that she and MSLO were "happy with the growth that's occurring at Hallmark" and that MSLO's block was "doing ok." She also said the firm is working with Hallmark "to do new and different things." She didn't elaborate.

Stewart's unaided awareness is 53 percent when people are asked for the name of a person who provides lifestyle and home ideas, Gersh said in citing data. The closest competitor with 6 percent is Rachael Ray, she said. She also argued that Lagasse and other company talent has been "under-exploited."

Gersh in her presentation also said that MSLO would save $5.5 million from the end of a studio lease that it is exiting next year. And she said that the company could bring TV production in-house, but she didn't share further details. MSLO currently has two photo studios, according to a spokeswoman.

Gersh further told the UBS crowd that MSLO has a "tremendous library" that can be used digitally and that digital advertising is a key opportunity. While digital requires investment, MSLO will be prudent, she said.

Meanwhile, merchandising is the fastest-growing and most profitable part of the company's business, she highlighted. Better terms for merchandising deals should be available in the marketplace, she added.


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