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Recessionistas in the Rainbow Room

Scores of women (and a few conspicuous men) attended the Women @ NBCU’s first event on Tuesday morning, the Power of the Purse breakfast, featuring a talk from Martha Stewart and a panel discussion on how to market to women in a recession.

“I didn’t need a recession to figure out what I could live without. I had another experience,” said Stewart as the crowd, whose giveaway Martha Stewart Living tote bags (with a colander inside) adorned the backs of their chairs, laughed.

But for ad and marketing executives, appealing to women in tough economic times is a challenge hardly worth laughing about. Women @ NBCU is a marketing initiative headed by Lauren Zalaznick, president of women and lifestyle entertainment networks at NBCU that launched in May of last year and could be a vital resource for advertisers looking for help zeroing in on early adopter, affluent female viewers (the Lipstick Jungle-ification of the demographic, if you will).

Stewart implored her audience that women consumers are still willing to invest in products that have long-term value, but that, “they are not buying the $1000 suit right now. They are not buying the $5000 pocket book.” Women consumers with discretionary income (like society as a whole) are becoming more home-centric, which means they are buying products that are right in Stewart’s wheelhouse: “People are crafting,” she said.

Following Stewart’s speech, CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo took over MC duties, presiding over a panel discussion with five powerful female marketing executives.

The advice from the execs was for clients not to “go dark” during the recession. Research has shown that advertisers who stay accessible during recessions do better maintaining consumer loyalty after the economic dark days have ended.

Susan Lyne, former CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and CEO of Gilt Groupe, said consumers are looking for products that they feel secure about.  Lisa Caputo, EVP of global marketing  and corporate affairs for Citigroup said advertisers should avoid being glitzy and gimicky, underscoring the tone of the current economic climate.

When the discussion ended, Zalaznick made a few closing remarks, asking guests to please keep their tote bags and not give them away to nannies or baby-sitters. “I see these bags all over the city,” Zalaznick said. To close the morning Zalaznick asked everyone to look under their saucers where one person per table would find a sticker which meant they could keep the potted plants that sat in the center of each table for decorations.

“It’s like a recession bat-mitzvah that I’m having for myself!” she exclaimed.