AD NAUSEAM: a copywriter's life

Valentine’s Day, and the big kiss-off

Posted in Uncategorized by CopyBlogger on the February 14th, 2013


A ROSY RED VALENTINE’S DAY TO ALL, with warm hopes that your holiday is replete with cards and chocolates and a plump Cupid shooting arrows wherever they will do the most good. I haven’t written for a while, though a subject has been much on my mind these past few weeks. So this seems like a good opportunity to spread the love and provide an update.

Milestone: one month ago today, yours truly was laid off from Brookstone.

It was Monday, Jan. 14, and I was at my desk when a priority meeting invitation appeared on my email. I remember the time: 9:36 AM. In 24 minutes I was to meet with Brookstone merchandising VP Steven Schwartz, and punctuality was urgently requested.

I thought it might be a withering critique of the Spring catalog we had just put together the week before. But when I got to the conference room there were about 30 chairs in neat rows–way more than would be needed for the catalog team. So people filed in, the 10 o’clock hour came, and a few uneasy minutes later Schwartz came in with an HR woman I hadn’t seen before. He pulled out a letter and read aloud, informing us that we were being laid off as part of a corporate restructuring intended to increase Brookstone’s competitive something-or-other.

The usual BS followed. Very difficult decision, no reflection on our performance, gratitude for service rendered. Then he excused himself and left the HR person to handle questions and answers. The gist of it was, we were expected to leave the building immediately. Boxes would be provided, here’s your packet and severance info, call the number on the card if you need to return and get stuff off your computer.

I’m too obtuse or antisocial to keep up with workplace gossip, but it seemed that my surprise was shared by most. Creative director, lead art director, designers and writers and proofreaders … all gone with the wind. Only a skeleton crew survived the purge in Creative Services. If it was anything like other situations I’ve been in, they probably figured they could save money by scaling back print catalogs in favor of cheaper online marketing. At the very least, there’d be an impressive savings figure they could take credit for.

In the meantime, other letters were being read in other conference rooms. Seventy-one people were laid off, all told, and many were career Brookstone people of unquestioned value to the company. The layoff was so sudden and unannounced, the state unemployment office was unaware of it until reading it in the papers the following day.

Now I’m back on the job market, which is mightily depressing. And I can’t help but feel pessimistic, because this is the third straight job I’ve been laid off from.

Each time it gets worse.

At Stal-McLane, the aging owners simply didn’t have enough business to keep me on, and it pained them to give me my notice. Then at Deluxe, I survived four or five corporate reorganizations while most of the other writers lost their jobs or had positions eliminated. Eventually I lost my job too, but only after a very thorough process in which employees had a chance to “interview” for the reconfigured job descriptions. That was something of a charade, since it was obvious that management wanted to pull jobs back into the corporate HQ in Minnesota; but still, there was plenty of notice and I had a shot at justifying my existence.

Now? It seems layoffs are just a quick-fix tactic for investor relations, with no stigma or residue of public regret. And only the HR people seem to thrive. In this terrible economy, individuals have been under siege for a long time, and corporations seem far more confident–and far less tactful–about pressing their advantage. Even when it doesn’t have a fully thought-out benefit beyond momentarily impressing board members or investors.

It is a meaner time in Business America than any I can remember. I have a friend who just got laid off from Deluxe after 30 years, and he said business was booming there in the time since I left the company. He was busy all the time and the company’s financials were great, but that wasn’t enough. Another friend (also laid off) said that a colleague praised the layoffs for “getting rid of the lazy people”–unaware that she was talking to one.

It’s just business, not personal. That “Godfather” cliche is everywhere these days. But people often make a personal judgment about you after a layoff.

“Why were you terminated?” is the inevitable question, whether you’re talking to an interviewer or the unemployment office. The idea that it was done for no special reason always seems to arouse skepticism.

For example, New Hampshire’s online claim forms give you many options when explaining sudden unemployment: insubordination, absenteeism, poor performance and more. But there’s no option that says, “Management wanted to whitewash a bad quarter.” The onus is on the little guy. He must have done something wrong.

So my brief Prague Spring of fulltime employment at Brookstone is over. I must say it comes as a painful disappointment, just as I was starting to contribute something and solidify a place in the company. Hopefully there will be something new in the near future, but even if there is I don’t think I’ll be able to feel secure anymore. That luxury seems almost quaint nowadays, an irrational mental artifact from a time we won’t see again.