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Martha Stewart

How to keep a business going 6/17/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Martha Stewart, founder; Susan Lyne, CEO; Heidi Diamond, president, television

How fitting that a tumultuous year for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (MSLO) can be best explained with a reference to … yarn.

“We stuck with our knitting” is how Heidi Diamond, president of the television division, explains the brand’s ability to survive after the domestic diva went to jail for five months for lying about a stock sale.

“They definitely don’t teach this in business school,” Diamond says. “There’s no manual, no how-to guide in terms of ready reference for what to do in this kind of situation. We were continuously committed to our brand and its mission, and we were unwavering in knowing that it was going to endure.”

Stewart’s trademark focus and determination helped her, new CEO Susan Lyne and Diamond steer the company through layoffs, quarterly losses, an avalanche of brutal press and endless jokes.

“All of us here are made from that same good stock. The die-hardness and commitment and dedication is evidenced by how prolific our company is as a producer of high-quality content,” Diamond says. “Martha certainly is a wonderful example of someone who is just nonstop about that, and her quest is really a beautiful thing to watch, because it’s about continuing to please and delight her loyal customers.”

As for watching, audiences will get their chances. Martha, a daily daytime studio show owned by MSLO and syndicated by NBC Universal, will premiere Sept. 12. Her version of The Apprentice, owned by NBC, will air in prime time beginning this fall. Reality guru Mark Burnett is producing both

Lyne, the former ABC Entertainment president, was key in “architecting” MSLO’s strategy, Diamond says, and promoting the strength of “the wonderful assets that make up our company within the television arena as well as publishing, retail and the Internet area.”

Even before Stewart “went away for the winter” (as Diamond puts it), she and Burnett were discussing the shows. After her house arrest ends in August, the programs will really take shape.

“Martha talked about how she’d be coming back on television and she’d be ready for a little renovation, a little reinvention,” says Diamond, who worked at AMC and the Food Network before joining MSLO in 2002.

“And Martha said, 'Mark promises he won’t interfere with the recipes, and I promise that I won’t interfere if Mark wants to show us having more access to our viewers, a little bit of humor, a little bit of urgency.’”

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