PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: Martha seeks 'clean' start before sentencing

When it comes to the benefits of a little positive PR, some people just get it. Then there are those who need to be facing 10 to 16 months in a federal prison before they see the light.

When it comes to the benefits of a little positive PR, some people just get it. Then there are those who need to be facing 10 to 16 months in a federal prison before they see the light.

Martha Stewart, who resisted making even the slightest apologetic gesture as she was accused, tried, and convicted of Wall Street shenanigans, last week affirmed her platinum membership in the latter category.

Just two weeks before her sentencing date, Stewart used a well-leaked story to tell everyone that there was more to her than macramé poodle shawls and obstructions of justice.

In an attempt to lessen her time in the slammer - and soften her image with the judge - Stewart is offering to spend part of her jail time teaching business classes for low-income and minority women. The Women's Venture Fund, a New York nonprofit, helped set up the deal with her "sentencing consultant" and even provided a few words of praise about the domestic artiste's generosity to Newsweek (which broke the story courtesy of "sources close to the case").

If the move succeeds, it will be because the offer, like all good PR, succeeds not in masking Stewart's faults, but in putting her best foot forward. Even the most hostile judge has to acknowledge Stewart's value as a women's business instructor, which elevates the move above your generic feel-good, celebrity-in-peril gesture.

If it fails, chalk it up to those casual tone-deaf mistakes that Stewart is becoming known for (like bringing a $5,000 pocketbook to court while being charged with financial crimes).

Her reported reason for teaching low-income women how to start cleaning companies? She's struggling to find good people to clean her house.

  • Douglas Quenqua writes PR Play of the Week. He is PRWeek's Washington, DC bureau chief.

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