Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia hires Blackstone

NEW YORK (AP) - Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said Wednesday it hired Blackstone Advisory Partners to explore strategic opportunities for the media and merchandising company, triggering speculation that it may be put up for sale.

Shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. climbed $1.15, or 30.5 percent, to $4.92 in late morning trading.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia also said former NBC executive Lisa Gersh will take over as president and chief operating officer, effective June 6. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said its plans include having Gersh become chief executive over the next 12 to 20 months.

Gersh was a co-founder of Oxygen Media and served as its president and COO from 1998 until 2007 when the company was acquired by NBC Universal. Gersh most recently served as president of strategic initiatives at NBC.

The company also announced that Martha Stewart will rejoin the board in the third quarter. Stewart’s return coincides with the end of her five-year ban from serving on the board or as an executive of a public company, which was part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over insider trading charges against Stewart. In settling the charges, Stewart neither admitted nor denied the allegations in the SEC complaint.

Stewart was convicted on federal criminal charges in March 2004 for lying to federal prosecutors about selling ImClone shares a day before the Food and Drug Administration went public with its decision to decline reviewing ImClone’s application for its cancer drug Erbitux. She served five months in prison for that offense.

Stewart has more than 90 percent of shareholder voting power, according to the company’s most recent 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In announcing that Blackstone had been hired, the company said that the advisor would “review and respond to various parties that have expressed interest in potentially partnering with or investing in the company, as well as exploring other opportunities.’

Last month, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said it lost $6.8 million in the first three months of the year, compared with a net loss of $3.4 million in the same period in 2010. Revenue slipped to $52.7 million from $53.2 million.

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