Sadly, Ad Industry Still Gloating Over Carat layoff Email

Anyone who thinks the wording of the erroneously sent Carat documents about impending layoffs was, in any way, different from other agencies' documents on the same topic is an idiot. It's always about saving face. It's always about making the agency look good in front of the client. It's all about positioning to protect the business. There isn't an agency out there that hasn't thought of or written the same thing Carat did in those documents.

But here's the thing. The words in any agencies' documents are almost always set aside when two human beings - the one doing the firing an the firee - sit down face to face in the same room to address the dirty reality of layoffs. They are inevitable and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

In light of that inevitably, an agency must go on. It must retain its clients. It must retain its remaining employees. And, yes, it must "position" itself to insure those things. Otherwise, the entire endeavor is pointless. Without clients, there is no agency. Without employees, there is no agency.

It's a double edged sword for sure. When you get right down to it, most people who work in agencies are perfectly nice people. But when faced with business difficulties, they are sometimes sucked into the machine and are, in some ways, forced to act as if they are an unfeeling cog. Some of this is natural self-preservation. Some of it is helplessness in the face issues out of one's control.

Having worked at a 250-plus person agency at which all 250 people were laid off within a 6 month period, I can attest to the difficulties and intricacies involved when any agency faces something exponentially worse than what Carat is facing now. Not one person intends to be malicious or unfeeling. Not one person plans to sound like a buffoon when writing a "talking points" memo on agency firings. It just happens. It's part of working in an agency or in any business. Shit happens. You move on.

For Advertising Age and, to a much, much lesser degree, AdWeek, to have sensationalistically trotted out Carat's internal documents is deplorable not to mention outing the poor souls who made the error. Trashing work (as Adrants freely does on a regular basis) is far different than basically throwing an HR person - and an entire agency - under a bus for the industry to gawk at as if it were an accident on the side of a highway.

Layoffs, of course, must be reported as soon as press is tipped to them. That's what press does. Press breaks news and layoffs are news. Sensationalizing an agency's documents is, of course, fun but it's not always the right thing to do. Advertising Age should, of course, reported the news but they could have left the sensationalistic angle out of the story.

As previously stated, anyone who has every worked in an ad agency knows nothing in those Carat documents was news. It's standard agency practice. It's how it's done. It's not perfect but there really isn't a perfect way to fire people. Everything about it sucks. In light of that, it makes perfect sense Carat planned extensively for the fallout as they did with these documents.

For all those laughing at Carat, take a look inside your agency. Are you really any different?

by Steve Hall    Sep- 8-08   Click to Comment   
Topic: Agencies, Opinion, Worst   

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Thanks for this, Steve. Your comments apply to all businesses that have been forced to right-size their company during challenging times.

When I read the article in AdWeek I cringed. Not only for the poor folks that received the memo in error, but for the sender as well.

I had the unfortunate task of being the communicator for a large lender, and for last 1 1/2 years had to write and distribute such communications while fielding calls from Reuters, Bloomberg and the WSJ all the while hoping nothing was misprinted to the point I would hear from our IR guys.

It's never easy to reduce workforce. But, sadly, sometimes it's necessary. When that happens, a solid communication plan is essential. A company owes it to not only the folks impacted, but those who will stay, and the company's clients.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS check twice (or more) before hitting the send button.

Posted by: Brandie on September 8, 2008 1:28 PM

As someone who works in the HR profession, let me say that you are spot on Steve. Reductions-in-force are devastating to everyone involved � not only those who leave but those who stay. As such, they should be viewed and handled in the most dignified manner. Yes, they are a fact of business and necessary so that the company and those remaining can continue to deliver a quality product/service to their clients. To gloat over such a thing, particularly for some perceived gain, caters to the lowest common denominator and should be viewed as totally reprehensible.

Posted by: Keith Lauby on September 8, 2008 1:39 PM

I disagree with almost everything you said, if not the spirit in which you said it. It is difficult being in a position to let people go, I know I've been there many more times than I would like. But making the excuse that this is simply "standard practice" doesn't excuse anything. And it is the very reason why, although I also cringed when I saw the story, we need these stories. Someone needs to learn a lesson here, if this is simply swept under the carpet and forgotten, then no one will learn anything.

I run an agency and we don't do these things, so here is one that disproves your theory. We deal with our situations when they arise, one on one, person to person. It is harder and more difficult that way certainly, but I believe that our employees deserve our best, in good times and bad times.

There is no excuse good enough for the leak of this information before hand, if that is standard agency practice at the agencies that you are familiar with, please stop lumping us all in together. We're not all the same.

Posted by: Bryan Ward on September 8, 2008 1:48 PM


No, not really. You are woefully off the mark in your comments and show a stunning failure to grasp why this was truly "news". Email blunders happen, that's not newsworthy. So do layoffs.

I read much of the commentary about the Chief People Officer's blunder here and didn't see anyone gloating or remotely happy that people were being right-sized.

What was news worthy was that Carat was planning on lying to their clients about what was happening. Its one thing to try to spin when someone sits down face to face; "We're retaining the best talent, so although we're having layoffs, by definition you're going to have someone better on your account. And yes, they'll be stretched much thinner than the previous person who was made redundant but we'll get by"

The insincerity and failure of leadership in a time of crisis, that's newsworthy.

Posted by: Joe on September 8, 2008 1:55 PM

ugh. Adrants, get off the sanctimonious high horse. There's pretty much no difference between ripping on a Creative's work and ripping on an HR person's work. Either you're committed to highlighting the occasional ineptitude that plagues all agencies or you're not. Don't play the compassion card when the vampiristic side is what keeps you in's disingenuous.

Posted by: nixie on September 8, 2008 2:01 PM

So Bryan, you've never considered the ramifications firing someone would have on clients and how you would "position" it? I doubt that. Likely, there are not 750 people working in your agency. By default - and not the fault of anyone - when companies get bigger, they have to get more formal with their internal communications. It's just the way it is.

I agree one could interpret the way Carat was planning on informing clients was, perhaps, an intent to lie though does a client really need to be informed of every single internal adjustment as long as their account continues to be handled well?

I'm not advocating hiding the truth and I don't think Carat would have gone this route had this plan actually been put into motion. Why? Because, everyone knows it's impossible to hide the fact someone has left the company. Even the people that wrote this know that. The intent to lie, is wrong, I agree. The actuality lying would actually have occurred is highly doubtful

Posted by: Steve Hall on September 8, 2008 2:12 PM

Moving forward with business is one thing, and yes of course we have to deal with that when it happens. But the number of people at an agency has no bearing on treating people the right way, in my opinion. I've worked at both big and small agencies and I've seen the worst and the best of people. It all comes down to how a situation is handled, and how you handle it says more about you as a person, a company and an agency, than some people want to admit. It is just too easy to write it off as "oh well, that's how everyone else does it".

Someone I knew at another agency was standing at the copier in the morning waiting for some print outs when the IT repair man walked by. He could hear his walkie-talkie inform the repair man to have his computer removed that morning, which everyone at that agency knew meant he was going to be fired. To me, these are the same issues. Who would want to work for a agency that treated its people with that much disrespect?

A lot apparently, since that one and Carat are much, much bigger than we are. In my opinion however, if humanity is something you loose by getting that big, they can have it. No thank you.

Posted by: Bryan Ward on September 8, 2008 2:20 PM

Hmm. Nixie. Thanks. We'll be using that as the basis for our next media kit:

"Adrants, a lame, sanctimonious, two-faced, wannabe Ad Age which can't decide whether or not to trash or defend the ad industry's failing reaches a cadre of ad industry professionals who love to wallow in the ineptitude of others."

Yea, that's it.

Posted by: Steve Hall on September 8, 2008 2:24 PM


I agree with completely on the getting big is no excuse for losing humanity. Sadly, it just happens.

Posted by: Steve Hall on September 8, 2008 2:26 PM

It is sad. And one of the biggest reasons why I decided to leave and start my own agency. It doesn't have to be that way.

Posted by: Bryan Ward on September 8, 2008 2:38 PM

this Natl Enquirer yellow journalism experiment worked out just fine for all media that pissed on social standards and published the embarassing and mis-sent emails of carat HR.

In this world of spiraling economic bad news, crime and mis-deeds all too often go up in step with the unemployment rate. Effective tactical measures to increae eyeballs seem to be at work here.

Posted by: Arthur on September 8, 2008 2:53 PM

"I agree one could interpret the way Carat was planning on informing clients was, perhaps, an intent to lie though does a client really need to be informed of every single internal adjustment as long as their account continues to be handled well?"

I think we're closer to agreeing with each other than I originally thought. No, a client doesn't have to be informed of every adjustment. Clients get it a heck of a lot more often than we give them credit for. A simple and honest "the industry is changing, we need to make adjustments, this wont impact your business, please call Mary Jane at XXX-XXX-XXXX if you have questions or concerns. We'll be reaching out to you frequently over the next few days and weeks to make sure this adjustment is handled as smoothly as possible" would've build up credibility and possibly loyalty. Even entertaining the idea of lying to their clients shows a lack of integrity on leadership's part. Add to that the email flub and god-awful internal double-talk and you have a legit news story sparking discussion on the state of the industry.

I repeat my previous point: No one is gloating at Carat having to lay off employees. Everyone knows they could be next and the ad world is a small small world. The sanctimonious preaching about "gloating for some perceived gain" is misplaced at best.

Posted by: Joe on September 8, 2008 3:57 PM


fuck hr


Posted by: rooster on September 8, 2008 4:42 PM

We all work in marketing therefore we have all been laid-off at one time or another. At least Carat has a plan to lay-oof people and are all singing in one voice. At an organization I recently left, the CMO called a group of marketing people into a room, tossed a stack of severance letters on the conf table and told them "you are on the list" and left the individual to find thier letters and then escorted them out the door. That is heartless

Posted by: jon on September 8, 2008 4:55 PM

Well said, Arthur.
I fear the bar keeps getting lower and lower for the sake of eyeballs.

Posted by: Frumpy on September 8, 2008 6:23 PM

Well, there really is no good way to fire anyone. But Carat’s blunder, intentional or not, must be categorized as a bad way. And as the industry grows increasingly cold and “professional”—with lines like, “Sorry, it’s just business,” becoming common sentiments delivered during firings—I say it’s fair game for the media or blogs to blast away.

I think it says something about a company when they feel the need to script out the firing statements. Are the managers so ignorant that they can’t figure out how things should be handled? Additionally, in this day and age, the scripts should have been delivered to managers individually, face to face. The Carat CPO showed some real laziness. You do not send a message like hers out via email. Emails are not private. Ever. If she hadn’t broadcast it to the world, someone else would have done it for her. Again, the woman is lazy. And potentially ignorant about present-day technology. The send features weren’t invented yesterday. The subject matter of her email makes the “mistake” inexcusable.

Finally, most workers are rarely surprised when a mass firing happens. The writing is on the wall for weeks beforehand. So it’s incumbent upon management to address matters with professionalism and respect. Carat didn’t do that. Not even close.

Posted by: caROT on September 8, 2008 7:53 PM