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So you've just been let go: How can marketers survive recent media and tech layoffs?

Creativ Strategies

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February 17, 2023 | 7 min read

So you’ve just been laid off, canned, axed, fired, released, let go, dismissed, replaced, or restructured

Irrespective of whatever euphemism upper management has contrived to justify it, you no longer have a J.O.B. and ask yourself, “What the hell do I do now?”

With over 200,000 tech and media workers recently laid off from Alphabet, Salesforce, Amazon, Meta, Warner Bros.Discovery, and Disney, you are not alone. These are the macro realities behind being let go, and how other marketers are navigating layoffs in a tighter labor market.

Realize a layoff isn’t about you

Your company wasn’t thinking about you when they decided to cut your job. The layoff that you happened to be a part of is about making investors happy, a new strategic direction, cutting costs, or ensuring the firm continues to do business. You are probably the victim of being in the wrong position at the wrong time

Thousands of employee layoffs over the past year have resulted from an economic slowdown and a subsequent trend towards mergers and acquisitions. Tech and media firms, now more cash conscious, have started to consolidate various business units, causing redundancies and layoffs.

“When big tech or the FANG companies conduct layoffs, it sends a shiver down everyone’s spine,” said Tom Challahan, COO and head of recruiting of Fabric Staffing, a boutique search and talent recruitment firm that specializes in placing software engineers and tech employees. “For smaller companies, it creates an environment where capital is harder to get, and they are forced to lay people off or start outsourcing solutions. When you only have a couple million in the bank, you can either cut people’s pay or lay people off… A lot of candidates that we’ve placed in the last two years have been laid off. Most of the people I’ve seen laid off are in HR, sales, and marketing.”

Disney laid off 7,000 employees this week as shareholders and activist investors demanded cost cutting after a messy executive shakeup and a decrease in Disney+ subscriptions. Bob Iger and the board were tasked with achieving ‘efficiencies’ by cutting around $5.5bn in costs from the company’s books. Those ‘efficiencies’ came from cutting 3% of the company's workforce, the majority coming from their DMED “Marketing and headcount” division.

A tighter labor market has put more power back into the hands of companies as well, notes Callahan. “Things that were tipping points to get candidates in the door, like 401k match, pet insurance, and others are getting cut back. Companies that had a totally remote policy are now telling new candidates you have to be in the office three days a week.” Many advertising and media firms continue to announce similar policies, asking employees to return to the office at least three days a week.

You realize corporate indifference is a hollow consolation but also realize it wasn’t personal. You won’t take it as an evaluation of self worth and understand that the skills learned at your late employer will be valued elsewhere.

How you survive and thrive after a layoff

You receive the news. Perhaps the layoff occurred during a challenging personal time, surprised you out of nowhere, or rolled inevitably toward you. You give yourself time to grieve and collect your thoughts. You also have the power to negotiate the terms of your release.

Two of the top three layoff incentives are cash based. The company releasing you has an incentive to keep things amicable to avoid negative publicity, lawsuits, and blowback. Severance standards have increased in recent years with employees receiving packages rising to 64% in 2021 from 44% pre-pandemic, according to a talent mobility report by Randstad Risesmart.

Especially for employees at smaller companies or startups, layoffs can be sudden. For Los Angeles based marketing executive Zach Glass, “Getting laid off for the first time in my career was a real gut punch.” He was laid off from biotech firm Quantgene in December of 2022 when the company experienced a sudden cash crunch. “They had been financing their operations through Covid testing contracts with film studios. When those dried up, and the product wasn’t quite ready, they had to do pretty significant layoffs.”

Tom Cahallan says the headwinds are changing in the labor market. With layoffs and more talent in the market, there is a deflationary pressure on salaries. “I think a lot of these people at FANG companies, after tasting that cushy life, are going to have to come back down to earth and salaries are probably going to come down too. Maybe not the base, but total compensation for sure as the stock prices are less inflated as well. Pre-pandemic you were seeing total compensation with stock at over half a million total comp for someone with only three to four years experience. We’ll probably see these senior software engineers come down to 170 to 190 base. The previous salaries weren’t sustainable in the long run.”

However, the newly found time, perspective, and any severance can provide you with the runway to plan your next move. An ex-employee of CNN+ affected by the 2022 layoffs said, “the severance package we received was generous. I got six months of full salary due to the circumstances. I had the time to methodically plan my next move. I felt I had more leverage to pick and choose and interview the companies I was talking to. My new company ended up being a better culture fit, and I enjoy the work much more.”

Looking toward the future, Glass stated, “[the layoff] gave me the chance to do some things I hope to continue even after I land that full-time dream gig: Exploring new verticals, consulting, working on passion projects, and reconnecting with old colleagues.” In the meantime, he is currently freelancing for several firms, enjoying building a small boat chartering business, and spending more time with his wife and newborn.

Another true layoff story

Days before Thanksgiving vacation, you receive a slack message from the director of HR asking for a meeting in 15 minutes. You are already on a beach in the Dominican Republic, working remotely from the cafe of a surf resort in anticipation for the holiday. Your phone starts to buzz manically, incessantly. Your colleague texts the marketing Whatsapp group that she was just let go. It buzzes again, your boss was let go too. Your call is now five minutes away. You deduce what is about to happen.

It happens. The HR director is close to tears because you worked closely together. The in-house counsel is extra lawyery but sad to see you go. You liked him too. Your department is being restructured and the entire marketing team is being let go. Your email is being deactivated that day. They’ll send the paperwork to your personal email.

You sit in the cafe in front of your laptop for a long time. It’s pretty out. The wind rustles the palms and tropical flowers that surround you. You close your laptop and head to the beach where you are learning to surf.

When you return to the states you start to make phone calls. A couple of past colleagues have moved on to new important roles. You say you're open to work. You do some freelance work. It’s good. You do some more and one client puts you on contract retainer. Then another. Then a third. Your accountant yells at you to incorporate so you pay less taxes. Now you're a business owner.

The world has given you a new purpose. All you had to do was let go.

Image by Cole de Brito

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