An unwritten rule in publishing used to be no layoffs between November and January. No company wanted to appear either heartless or desperate and ruin employees’ holidays. But just as print gives way to digital, so the old rules are broken in favor of the first law of business: survival of the fittest. And so last Thursday, Martha Stewart Omnimedia terminated 100 employees, roughly a quarter of its staff, two weeks before Christmas.
The move itself isn’t that big a surprise for a company that has been losing money steadily in recent years. Ad pages in MSO magazines are down, and the company ceased publication of two titles, Everyday Food and Whole Living, earlier this year. Television productions have also lost revenue.
While the terminations may save some money, the timing of them does nothing to stanch the flow of negative publicity for MSO including the recent court case with Macy’s. Now come terminations at the behest of new MSO CEO Daniel Dienst, described as a “veteran turnaround expert” by the Wall Street Journal. Stewart released the quote, “Dan has specific expertise helping companies run efficiently and productively.” This season Martha’s holiday cheer gives rise to nothing but scorn for the 100 employees whose got a gift wrapped pink slip for Christmas.
PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart Omnimedia.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Appearances can be aggrieving. When taking a company’s bottom line into consideration, factor in customer reaction. Martha Stewart caters to female consumers – specifically, homemakers. Really specifically, women who wouldn’t want their joyous holidays turned lean after being fired by a Scrooge. The timing for this could not have been worse. Tough decisions need to be made, no doubt, but timing in cases like this really is everything.