INTERNATIONAL: Medium of the month

Dominic Mills tries to discover the secret of Martha Stewart’s success

Dominic Mills tries to discover the secret of Martha Stewart’s success

Martha Stewart - the woman, that is - is a phenomenon. How else do you

describe somebody who has her own weekly TV show, syndicated to more

than 120 stations, a syndicated newspaper column, writes books on

entertaining and crafting a home, has her own line in paints and, to cap

it all, her own magazine, Martha Stewart Living.

Naturally, this being virtuous circle time, the magazine relentlessly

plugs the TV show - and vice versa - as well as her lecture-circuit


Enough, the great US public might cry. But no. Nearly five years after

the launch of her magazine, Stewart (well, Time Warner, really, since

her publishing deal is with it) and her magazine are a runaway success.

So much so, in fact, that the media gossips say she wants to renegotiate

her contract with Time Warner and, in order to up the ante, is making it

known that other publishing groups are interested.

What of the magazine? It’s beautifully designed, relaxed and easy paced.

Read it and you’ll believe everything in the garden is rosy, in a

suburban, WASP kind of way. This is a world where all that matters is

creating the right egg topiary, the right brick path or cleaning your

carpet. It’s a US that even advertisers disregard as being too clean.

How does it work? The answer must be that, in the nicest possible way,

Stewart preys on the endemic insecurity of America’s middle-class women,

who need to be told how to cook for dinner parties and what music to

play at them. Couple this with their built-in need for an aspirational

role model - Stewart’s calendar, which is printed every month without

the slightest hint of irony, has her filing her tax return on 11 April,

applying deer repellent to the tulips on the 12 April, pumping her

septic tank on the 15 April and leaving for Mount Everest on the 21

April - and you have a hit.

But don’t sneer too much. The title has won lots of awards, among them

the American Society of Magazine Editors’ award for photography in 1994

and design in 1995.

You can see why. There’s none of the typographical or photographic

freneticism that characterises other women’s magazines. For example, a

feature on building a brick path is unpatronising and a surprisingly

good read.

As a package that appeals to both the readers and advertisers, it’s hard

to gainsay.

Now where’s my hod?


Martha Stewart Living Enterprises includes much more than the Time

Warner magazine: 14 cook-books, six videos, a TV show (weekly and

syndicated), Martha by Mail catalogue shopping, separately branded

paints and decorations, plus branded sheets, towels and CDs.

Martha Stewart Living (the magazine) had its annus mirabilis in 1995.

Its ad revenue more than doubled - from dollars 14.9 million to dollars

33.3 million - and its circulation rose 53 per cent.

Upmarket advertisers include Estee Lauder; Toyota Lexus, Clinique,

Stolichnaya and Saab.