MSLO Shakeup: Blackstone Advises On Possible Sale; Oxygen’s Gersh To Be CEO

A flurry of announcements came out of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO) were dropped this morning, pointing to several new directions for the media and merchandising company. The big news is that MSLO has retained Blackstone to help it decide whether to explore the sale of the company or simply seek investment capital. Secondly, Martha Stewart is preparing to rejoin the board, years after her conviction in charges related to a 2004 insider trading case. Lastly, the company has hired Oxygen co-founder Lisa Gersh as president and COO, while president and CEO of merchandising Robin Marino is stepping down.

The company also said that Gersh will become CEO within 12-20 months, and it is expected that she will join the Company’s Board of Directors in the near future. Ms. Gersh will report to Executive Chairman and Principal Executive Officer Charles Koppelman.

Following the founding Oxygen Media, Gersh served as its president and COO from 1998 until 2007, when Oxygen was acquired by NBC Universal (NSDQ: CMCSA). After that, Gersh took on several executive roles for NBCU, most recently as president, Strategic Initiatives, where she was responsible for the creation of NBC’s Education Nation program. In between that post and Oxygen, she served as managing director and CEO of TheWeather Channel Companies.

Over the past year, the media lifestyles and home improvement company has experienced a number of personnel shifts at the top as the company sought to hold on to the revenue and profitability gains it had accrued and then saw eroded by the economic downturn.

Last fall, MSLO restructured its ad sales team to make one person the focal point across all print, broadcast and online marketing efforts. As a result, Group Publisher Sally Preston was promoted to EVP, Media Sales and Marketing. With her promotion, three veteran MSLO execs were dismissed, including Janet Balis as MSLO EVP of Media Sales & Marketing; Orlando Reece as SVP for broadcasting; and SVP for digital Christine Cook, who was quickly hired to manage ad sales for News Corp.’s The Daily.

Through it all, digital has been on solid footing, as the company has pursued a strategy involving a series of paid apps, such as its recent egg-dyeing app for the iPhone. In terms of business segments, the merchandising side has remained positive. As Marino departs, Patsy Pollack is being promoted and will take charge of merchandising.

Neverheless, bringing in Blackstone is a signal that the changes have not been working fast enough enough. As the news circulated, investors in the company were cheered, as the stock price rose 25 percent by early afternoon to $4.72 a share. Release