The Right Way To Fire A Radio Employee

The other night while President Obama was speaking to the nation before a joint session of Congress about the troubled U.S. economy, he praised a corporate executive for his unselfishness.

Listen up Fagreed, Marky Mark Mays, Slogan Hogan, Tricky Dickey, David Field and the other CEOs who make up the big eight Octobombs we call radio consolidators.

In his speech, President Obama gave praise to a corporate executive who shared his multi-million dollar bonuses with his employees and former employees.

Can you imagine anyone in radio sharing even a $50 bill with a present or past employee?

That got me to thinking about all the good and great companies out there who are experiencing the same miserable economic conditions that we are in the media business, but they are using a gentle hand and sympathetic approach to handling a difficult situation.

Later today, for example, when Citadel CEO Fagreed Suleman conducts Citadel's quarterly earnings report (or as I call it -- a wake), you won't see him resign.

Or offer to resign for failing to navigate the troubled waters.

Or share his pay and excessive bonuses -- over $11 million last year alone.

Or offer any praise to the hard working individuals who have to work for a stumble bum CEO who helped Citadel get into the mess it's in.

What Fagreed will likely do is promise more cutbacks -- a broken record that stopped playing a long time ago with investors.

Public companies are required to report earnings after the stock market closes, but sly fox Fagreed is doing it way after the market closes -- after 6 -- that's martini time on Wall Street. Hell, no one is paying attention.

Oh really?

Fagreed unfortunately is not the only CEO who doesn't know how to treat people. He and the other usual suspects almost seem to relish their role of chief executioner as if to say to Wall Street, "don't worry, we'll get rid of more of these vermin, but we need me".

There is no one in radio who doesn't know the economy is tanking and, face it, you can't pull the wool over anyone's eyes that radio didn't ask for the ass whooping it is getting.

Too much debt -- this one is on the CEOs and their investment banks.

Left out of the digital future
-- not one had a game plan.

The dumbing down of local radio
by corporate suits some of whom have never run a radio station and some of whom were handed theirs from daddy -- like a silver spoon.

The remarkable and incredibly shortsighted decision to cut radio's sales force
when the industry badly needed to find new blood, more advertisers and sell its best story of cheap, quick and efficient advertising for local companies who also need a hand up.

Too many hands in the company's financial cookie jar
in an unfair, unethical and criminal decision to loot the treasury to compensate the top guns even as they are firing their assets -- the talent that makes local radio work.

But, as I often say, it didn't have to turn out this way.

There is a right way to fire a radio person -- if, indeed, they must be fired.

First, you sit down and offer to keep them employed at a reduced rate. They may not like it, but I can tell you from my mail, many would have snapped up that offer. The reason such a proposal never came is because consolidators are not -- I repeat not -- interested in running what they bought by leveraging themselves into debt.

They never intended to operate -- they wanted to consolidate -- and now it seems they may even have to liquidate.

But here's my proposed Bill of Rights that should be a starter for radio groups who are ravaging local radio and needlessly hurting the very people who built up the assets that they lusted after, purchased and subsequently ruined.

I realize there are a few radio groups that do treat their employees with respect and dignity. Emmis, Lincoln Financial, Bonneville, Cox come to mind. And there are some outstanding managers even at the Evil Empire that try to handle firing with the dignity it deserves.

But for everybody else, try these on for size:

• Stop firing people and escorting them out of the building. I know Wall Street likes to do this. I know lawyers recommend it. These are good people who did no wrong. If you had any bad apples in the bunch you probably got rid of them many quarterly reports ago when you started house cleaning. These fine folks deserve the dignity of being treated with more respect and stop treating them like a sex offender.

• Say something nice about them on the way out the door. KGO's very able and classy GM Mickey Luckoff, forced to part with his lifelong assistant, wrote a moving, humble and sincere letter that he circulated to the staff and posted on line. He said he'd hire her again. Just because corporate CEOs can't figure out how to balance the budget, they don't have to denigrate the people they are cutting loose or let them leave their employ in shame.

• Make these dear departed welcome at your stations. If they are air talent, give them a place to make auditions. If they need a copy machine, offer yours. Need a reference, give one. Need to know who may be hiring or where they could look, help them -- after all, it could be you next. Fagreed and his ilk will be the last men standing among the rubble we call local radio.

• Six months to a year of paid COBRA health benefits. Don't dare cut anyone loose without allowing them to keep coverage for their families. Can you be that insensitive? Of course you can -- but you shouldn't. All you do by pillaging people is scare the survivors -- not good management strategy.

• Of course, pay severance based on length of employment and try to imagine what it must be like to go home and tell your son and daughter they cannot continue their education next semester. Generous severance is a necessary heads up to employees and families who got caught in your cutbacks.

• Be upfront about firings as some successful companies do -- announce the intended moves by email, Twitter and/or CEO blogs. Zappos, the still-profitable online shoe company, had a CEO who could teach Mark Mays something. He had to fire 124 employees out of 1,500 -- their venture capital company demanded financial concessions and he won kudos from employees for being direct, sensitive and respectful. Employees, according to a recent Fortune article, even thanked him for the best opportunities of their lives.

• Even the mighty Google, faced with cutting back 1,000 loyal employees, let the fired stay on for four weeks to take care of personal needs and say goodbye to their colleagues. That's dignity.

• Go on Twitter to keep your employees and former employees informed. Let them interact and follow. Zappos CEO had 30,000 followers at the time the company was featured in Fortune's "The 100 Best Companies to Work For".

• When and if it's time for radio groups to rehire, assure those employees you let go that you will notify them of any future openings and be sincere about hiring them back if possible.

It's awful that the radio industry has come to this -- the mass firing of qualified people. That act alone is reprehensible enough if it weren't for that fact that no good can come from it.

The cutbacks have not made radio a growth industry again (and I am speaking about before the recession).

Smaller staffs have not served their listeners well -- less local radio, more Repeater Radio.

Dismissing talented people who could be helping radio operators make a transition to the digital future shows everyone their original intentions -- accumulate and sell.

Radio has always weathered past recessions because small groups and mom and pop owners weren't out to wreck the business for a one-time profit.

At least on the way down, radio groups should have the decency to fire any employee they must let go with fairness, dignity and respect for them and for their families.

Anything else is just -- unacceptable.

If good karma comes back to you as good and bad as bad, radio consolidators are in for big trouble not only for their failed policies and poor decisions but for the way they have conducted themselves.

Meanwhile, watch Mr. Warmth, Fagreed Suleman, tap dance around his latest three months of failure tonight -- after 6 pm, remember?

He's representative of how consolidators think.

In sports, you can't fire the team when it is not successful, you have to fire the manager.

In radio, you fire the team and keep the manager no matter how inept he or she may be.

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