Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quiet please! People being laid off

An anonymous reader of this blog added a comment to a recent post last night that said there had been layoffs at Penton. I started to respond via comment, but opted instead to write a new post.
I don't know if more layoffs are planned at Penton ... but I would be surprised to find otherwise.
There have apparently been a number of layoffs at Penton in recent weeks. But I do not have a good sense of the numbers involved. I also know that in at least one location the company is revamping its processes and workflows to make a long overdue shift to a Web-first publishing model.
I'm not involved in these changes at Penton. Penton has been a client of mine in the past. But I'm not working with them at present.
Nonetheless, I understand the need for the changes at Penton and would, in all likelihood, support a plan to cut costs by reducing the size of the workforce. At the same time, it would be disingenuous for me to suggest that I thought the cuts and changes would actually save Penton. I have no faith that a company that has a debt load the size of Penton's and is dependent on a troubled business model for cash flow, can ride out the economic downturn.
In other words, if there were buyers available, I'm sure the company would be sold. But with nary a suitor in site, Penton has little recourse other than to hang on for dear life -- by cutting costs, selling brands on the rare occasion when a buyer surfaces, renegotiating debt payments over and over and over again, all while trying to convert the company into a collection of brands that can survive (or be sold) when the economy turns around.

No announcements
The company, however, has opted not to make formal announcements about the layoffs, etc. I don't think that's the wisest move. You probably don't either. As you know, the morale situation at the company is really quite awful. I get an email, comment or tweet every day now in which someone complains about the situation at Penton.
On the other hand, awful morale is the norm across all of publishing right now. Penton isn't alone in that.
The real problem for Penton is that the lack of transparency about the layoffs and changes is making it impossible for folks to feel committed to implementing change.
The company is losing some of the key people it needs to orchestrate the changes. On Friday I had a very interesting email exchange with someone I think of as among the most talented people at the company. But Friday was her last day. She'd grown disheartened and had taken another job.
I offer my sympathy to everyone at Penton and elsewhere in the media world. These are very difficult times. I understand the anxiety. Many of us have lost jobs. Many more of us will.
But for those of us who are interested, there is a tremendous future for B2B publishing. It won't look like the industry we're familiar with. Many of the companies we work for today won't survive long enough to see that future.
But if B2B journalism is your calling, then I would urge you to hang on.

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  1. Being one of seven or eight that was let go on Friday, I've heard up to 10% of Penton's total workforce would be let go by years end.

  2. If only Penton would live by the rule: employees first. Truth: it has been the hard work of their employees over the years that have kept them alive. Yet, what do they do??!! They cut employees instead of other things. Disgusting!!!!! Shameful!!!

  3. Anonymous,
    I don't think it makes much sense to say that layoffs are either "disgusting" or "shameful."
    Seriously -- we're all aware of the state of the economy. The recession is more than a year old. And, more importantly, the recession came after the start of a substantial slowdown in the media world. The business model is broken. And it's simply childish to run around pointing fingers at people for failing to protect you from a fundamental change in the entire media industry.
    Surely Penton has made mistakes. But so have you. To call the leaders of a company "disgusting" because they failed to anticipate the extent of an economic slowdown sooner and make moves to help people keep their jobs makes about as much sense as calling you "disgusting" because you failed to anticipate the extent of the slowdown sooner and go out and get a safer job.
    Also -- employees may be what keep a company alive. But employees are also the biggest expense in any publisher's budget.
    We know now that revenue for B2B publishers fell 13% in Q4. So let's use that number as an example. How can Penton cut 13% of the company's budget without cutting employees? Do you have some suggestions? I think it's safe to say that everyone in the industry is looking for some good answers to that question.