Photo Courtesy of Martha Stewart
By Claire Oliver
Martha Stewart is the original influencer. As the founder of the first-ever multichannel lifestyle conglomerate, she reaches more than 100 million fans a month through her shows, products, and magazines. Her media empire is so expansive that seven in ten women in the United States say she impacts the way they think about, organize, and manage their homes. The mogul sat down with Chief Member Ferial Govashiri, Chief of Staff to the Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer at Netflix, to discuss everything from the importance of curiosity, to working on the frontiers of business, to her celebrity crush (Hint: It's Snoop). Read on to discover what's behind her enduring success.
On Building the Original Personal Brand
"There had been magazines like Good Housekeeping and Women's Day, but it was 'Women's' Day, it wasn't a woman. It was a very exciting launch of a very exciting and excellent magazine. It had been my dream to reach as many people as I could with as much good information as I possibly could create about the subject of living and limitless subject matter that so many of us needed advice on. I always centered business on what I, as a woman, as a wife, as a homemaker needed and wanted. And it really has worked very, very well because I'm just like everybody else. I need the same stuff. I want the same stuff. I crave the same stuff. And that's what Martha Stewart Living did. It really provided a tremendous amount of information and inspiration to a very broad audience.
"I think that I set a trend — several people like Oprah and Dr. Oz started publications and huge businesses centered on a branded personality. But it's not so easy," Stewart said. "It gave me a tremendous responsibility, in terms of being the trusted name and face of the brand. Even now, I can't get old, I can't look messy, I can't look haggard. I have to look the epitome of great health and vitality at all times. I'm laughing, but I'm serious."
On Assembling the Right Team
"It's very important to have good people alongside you that have very good antennae for ideas," Stewart said. "I look for people who, first of all, understand me and what I'm trying to do. It's very important to be understood. Our magazine is 30 years old this year. I want them to understand how important it really is to me and for the rest of the people who work with me in the company and what we're trying to portray and engender in our audiences. I look for like-minded people who are very, very serious about the subject matter. It was [important] for us to focus on [homemaking categories like entertaining and gardening] and get experts in each of those categories to work for us. And we did it, we did it really well. More than 3,000 people have come to us, worked with us, created fabulous articles and products for our magazine and our business. And many have gone off now and started their own profitable and excellent businesses. It is so incredible."
Even after someone moves on to another opportunity, Stewart said maintaining connection is key. "If I really love the person and really admire their work, I always leave the conversation with, 'You are always welcome to return, and recently, during COVID, we've got a lot of returns," she said. "It's very important to try to maintain the friendship. You may not have to see a person every day or every month, but as long as you keep up a dialogue of some sort with those people who you really admired and loved working with, it's good for the future."
On Being a Pioneer
When Stewart presented the original business plan for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, many people said it couldn't be done. These doubts didn't stop her. "I like to try things myself and see if it can be done," she said. "I don't think Elon Musk would have been so successful with the electric car if he had listened to everybody in the car industry. I don't think Jeff Bezos would have taken this little ride to the frontiers of outer space if he had listened to everyone saying 'You're crazy' and 'Don't go yourself.' These are pioneers. I liked being a pioneer."
On Her Relationship With Snoop — How'd That Start Anyways?
In 2015, Stewart and Snoop Dogg were both guests on Comedy Central's Roast of Justin Bieber. "I sat next to Snoop. During the four hours of filming for that we weren't allowed to get up from our seats. We just sat there, and Snoop smoked the entire time. These big, huge blunts. And I was sitting there getting higher and higher, the secondary smoke wafting over me," she described. "We had the best time at that roast, and somebody saw it and said, 'Oh, they have to do a show together.'"
That's how Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party got started — the rest is history. "He called me recently, and I said, 'You know, Snoop, up here in Maine, the first thing that happens at a party now, a party of all my friends, is that they want to know about you, Snoop Dogg. When's he coming to Maine? They all want to meet you.' And he said, 'You want to know something, Martha? Every time I go out with my rapper friends, all they want to know is when you're coming out here.'"
On What's Next
"Snoop and I are conjuring up a big project right now, and that will be extreme fun," Stewart said. She's also working on a new podcast with iHeart Radio, an autobiography, and a documentary with R.J. Cutler, director of The September Issue, among many other ventures. "Opportunities come in every single day. People are always looking for something for their brand, for their company, for their product. You have to make up your mind and say, 'No, this isn't for me. This is not the right fit for the brand. This is not what I really want to spend my time doing,'" she said. "But, in addition, even the ones that are really opportunistic and fabulous take a lot of time, a lot of work, and you have to have the staffing to be able to do it. You have to be very careful when those opportunities arise and really pick and choose. And I'm lucky in that I'm in the position where I can pick and choose, but in the beginning, you can get yourself overloaded with a lot of extraneous stuff that will not let you grow in the right direction."
On Her Legacy
"Both my parents were teachers," Stewart said. "I think my legacy is being a really good teacher. Someone who has touched people's lives by giving them the information and the inspiration to create in their homes, create in their lives. If that's how I'm remembered, then when people make a chocolate chip recipe they say, 'Oh, this is Martha's,' that is important to me. It's a nice legacy."