Odious PR move of our times

April 22, 2009: 12:23 PM ET

guillotineToday Yahoo (YHOO) reported its earnings, which beat street estimates. As far as earnings go, they were pretty typical of today, actually better than some. They had earnings, for example. More than people thought they would, actually. 

On the other hand, profits were down from last year as revenue fell in the first quarter. Of course it did. Whose didn't? As quarters go, the first was a stinker. Nobody has anything very good to say about it. I guess the best thing is that it's over, and that the second quarter doesn't seem to be quite so bad. Like, we're still a very sick person, but the guy at the foot of the bed isn't chanting in Latin anymore, at least right now. Maybe he's just on a smoke break, but that's something.

The thing that caught my eye was the way the company linked its earnings news to an announcement. Again, this is nothing new. Companies often tie their earnings calls into exciting new developments that just might keep analysts entertained and delighted while they're peering at their GAAP situation.  So to delight Wall Street, the firm also announced that they would be cutting 5% of its workforce.

It's a pretty dramatic example of why companies do these kinds of things. They make a choice. They can think about their employees, who are beaten about the head and ears every day with bad news and already are quivering like jellyfish about their jobs. If they do, they accomplish their headcount reductions swiftly and quietly, and then go about their business -- because the real reason for the cutbacks has nothing to do with bellicose statements but is an actual attempt to control margins. Or they can listen to the PR people who are listening to the Finance and IR guys and make ostentatious displays of sanguinary intent to show their general seriosity to the Street. 

"We have bad news and good news," they state in their statement. "The bad news is that we're pretty much in the same boat as everybody else. The good news is that we're going to be firing more people."

I don't know who this stuff plays to. It must play to somebody, because a lot of people are doing it. I can tell you one thing. It doesn't play with me. When the bullet with my name on it is dispatched, I want it right in the back of the head, preferably while I'm at an expensive lunch being paid for by somebody else. Any pertinent announcements can be made when I'm no longer around to hear them.

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