Exclusive: After Martha, an 'Everyday' branding plan

By Published on .

While Martha Stewart was still on trial, the company that bears her name applied to trademark the moniker "Everyday Living" for a magazine, offering a glimpse into possible plans to rebrand products in the wake of a guilty verdict that is likely to land her in jail.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia applied for the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Jan. 23, shortly after Ms. Stewart's trial began. She was convicted of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and two counts of making false statements, tarnishing the brand and putting its future under severe pressure.

The company is reported to be considering a broad range of options in the wake of the trial, and President-CEO Sharon Patrick has talked of contingency plans if Ms. Stewart was convicted.

A MSLO spokeswoman would only say "Everyday Living" was "just one of many trademark applications put forth by [the company] for any number of ideas we have," adding the timing "could be coincidental." She declined to comment if the trademark application was made with an eye toward a possible name change for the company's flagship magazine, Martha Stewart Living.

Already, the company's syndicated newspaper columns, which are distributed by The New York Times Syndicate, dropped Ms. Stewart's name. Previously called "AskMartha" and "AskMartha Weddings," the columns are now simply called "Living" and "Weddings." Ms. Stewart's show, "Martha Stewart Living," was taken off the air by Viacom-owned CBS and UPN affiliates. On March 9, King World Productions, which syndicates the show, issued a brief statement saying it would still distribute "Martha Stewart Living" "to local stations that want to continue to broadcast the program." The Food Network continues to air "From Martha's Kitchen." But sibling network HGTV allowed its contract for "From Martha's Home" and "From Martha's Garden" to expire in December 2003.

Magazine companies routinely lock up trademarks to potential magazine titles without ever acting on them. This can be witnessed in an abandoned patent claim from Meredith Corp., publisher of Better Homes & Gardens, which let a trademark application expire on a broad range of editorial products in conjunction with the name "The Beauty of Everyday Living."

serious fire

Still, the patent application came as the Martha Stewart brand name is under serious fire-a situation that significantly worsened with Ms. Stewart's four convictions. Throughout this week, Ms. Stewart huddled with her board to hatch strategies for both the company and her role in it. Published reports placed her in negotiations to preserve some input into her company. Ms. Stewart, who has maintained she will appeal her convictions, is scheduled to be sentenced June 17. Commentators cite federal sentencing guidelines to suggest she faces between 10 months and 16 months of jail time.

Meanwhile, competitors sense openings and jostle for portions of Ms. Stewart's business. In but one example, the Hearst Magazines-Harpo Production co-venture O, The Oprah Magazine is spinning off an O at Home title slated for two newsstand-only issues this year. But insiders sniff an outright launch is on the way. A Hearst spokeswoman said, "We are committed to two newsstand specials in 2004" for O at Home.

One complication, should MSLO wish to make a magazine called Everyday Living, is that an existing trademark application is on file for a magazine of the same title.

It's held by a company identified as American Publishing LLC, which, its attorney said, is based in Southfield, Mich., although there is no published listing for a company of that name. (And it seems to be unrelated to the Memphis-based American Publishing LLC that began publishing American Magazine last year. That company did not return calls for comment.)

MSLO had previously made a file opposing American Publishing's registration, American Publishing's attorney, Andrew Basile, said. "If we are successful," he said, the Patent and Trademark Office "will reject the Martha Stewart application."

In any event, one veteran media buyer who requested anonymity doubted a name change could stem ad losses at Martha Stewart Living, which watched ad pages fall 41.3% in the last quarter of '03 and are down an additional 30.1% through February. "In the advertiser's mind, it's still a product from Martha Stewart," the buyer said. "Even if her name isn't on it."

contributing: bradley johnson

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