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January 29, 2009 1:00 PM

Rachael Ray goes to Harvard -- and I go to her for Super Bowl Sunday recipes

Posted by Nancy Leson

Yesterday I received a PDF-file from Harvard Business School titled "Rachael Ray: Cooking Up a Brand." I just finished reading it, and I have to tell you: the 21-page, fastidiously footnoted case study, prepared by professor Boris Groysberg and his business school colleague Kerry Herman, was fascinating.

Not since Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal locked lips in "Love Story" -- seen at the movie theater when I was an impressionable lovesick 'tween -- have I been so intrigued by something having to do with Harvard.

And what I learned about Rachael Ray has certainly changed my opinion of her. Not that I had anything against her, really, if you don't count the whole Ritz Crackers-situation I wrote about in 2007 under the headline, "Rachael, Rachael, Rachael: Enough already!"



Which is how I happened to hear from the fine folks at Harvard: after my Ritz-rant came out, I was interviewed for the case study by a Harvard Business School researcher. You can read the study too, but copyright law won't allow me to post it. You'll have to buy a copy. At $6.95, it'll cost a bit more than you'd pay on the newstands for "Every Day with Rachael Ray" but if you subscribe to the Rach phenomenon, or even if you don't, it's every bit as entertaining and enlightening. What's in it? The biz-school promo material explains the content here in biz-schooleze:

"The case details the rapid rise of Rachael Ray's career, beginning with her first appearance on NBC's Today show in March 2001. The case chronicles her success, exploring her various brands, promotional work and expansion into new media markets. The case also allows students to grapple with the challenges Rachael Ray might face in terms of the continued sustainability of her successful brand."

Love her or hate her, she's a success. And this business-school treatise outlines exactly how that came to be, in a way that goes well beyond the many things I've read or written about that success story. Reading those details made me want to take Rachael out for a drink, or three.

But the part that cemented that notion was this direct quote from Rach regarding her vision for her magazine: "I want to see legitimately useful information: here are shoes you can cook in and party in. . .This is more about customer service. I grew up working in resort-town restaurants [as I did]. In my mind I'm a waitress [ditto for me]. I want to give the people what they want [me too, doll!]"

And what people want, my editors told me this week, are recipes for Superbowl Sunday. Which poses a problem, because despite what my eds have insisted I write in the past, I don't give a rip about the Super Bowl. The soup bowl, sure, but the Super Bowl? Nah. Especially since the "Iggles" (as they call the team where I come from) lost their Bowl bid this year.

So I'll turn instead -- as so many millions do -- to the talented, successful, Harvard-dissected Rachael Ray, who's got plenty of "Yum-O" Superbowl recipes right here, courtesy of her fan-blog "Everything Rachael Ray."

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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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