Pfizer, Home Depot, Sprint Lay Off Thousands

At Least Some of 23,000 Lost Jobs Likely to Be in Marketing

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NEW YORK ( -- A total of 23,000 jobs will be lost among three major marketers -- Pfizer, Home Depot and Sprint -- that today announced sweeping staff reductions.

While none of the trio would say whether the reductions would include marketing posts, the sheer sizes of the layoffs make that seem likely. Sprint and Pfizer are each eliminating 8,000 jobs; Home Depot is eliminating 7,000.

Failed to gain traction
The home-improvement retailer is shuttering several specialty retail concepts that failed to gain traction with consumers, even in the midst of the housing boom. All told, 48 stores under the Expo Design Center, YardBirds, Design Center and HD Bath banners will be closed. About 5,000 employees will be affected by those closures, including support functions.

Jean Niemi, a spokeswoman for Home Depot, confirmed that the Expo Design Center business had marketing and advertising departments but declined to comment further. Ms. Niemi also declined to provide any specifics on the job capacities of the additional 2,000 employees being eliminated in a restructuring of the company's support functions. Home Depot said it will reduce the number of officers it has by 10%.

During a conference call with analysts, Frank Blake, Home Depot's chairman-CEO, said the company went "support function by support function, just frankly reducing the size of those organizations." The company will also begin putting a greater emphasis on regional activities, as opposed to single-store or individual-district activities.

Shuttering retail brands
Home Depot spent $580 million on measured media in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Ms. Niemi said much of the creative for the shuttering retail brands was handled internally. Richards Group is Home Depot's creative agency of record. Measured media spending for the Expo Design Centers was $4 million in the first nine months of 2008 and $10 million in all of 2007, according to TNS.

The Expo format was launched in 1991 and peaked at more than 50 stores in the early 2000s. It went beyond Home Depot's accessible product selection, with Viking appliances and elaborate chandeliers. Expo also specialized in complex project installations and design consultations. "Even during the housing boom, Expo never reached our financial goals," Mr. Blake said. "During the current downturn, particularly with the significant pressure on high-end decor products and services, Expo's financial performance has further deteriorated. Looking forward, we don't see, even with fairly optimistic assumptions, any likelihood that Expo would generate adequate financial returns."

Pfizer's reduction seems clearer cut, given that it will have redundancies when its $68 billion deal to acquire Wyeth is complete. In announcing the deal this morning, Pfizer said it was cutting 8,000 jobs and closing five of its manufacturing plants.

The layoffs represent almost 10% of Pfizer's work force of 82,000. The company said it would eliminate the jobs in its sales, manufacturing, research and development, and administrative divisions. Pfizer officials did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment as to whether the cuts would affect those in marketing.

No customer-care cuts
Sprint Nextel Corp., meanwhile, said it would trim 8,000 workers from its payroll in the first quarter as part of an initiative to achieve annualized estimated savings of $1.2 billion. The No. 3 U.S. wireless carrier said only that it would lay off fewer workers in customer care than in other areas, citing recent momentum and improvements in its customer service.

"The company is committed to ... high standards of customer care and innovation. In line with this commitment, the head-count reductions in these functions will be less than in non-customer-facing groups," the company said in a press release.

Sprint has made customer-care improvements a cornerstone in its turnaround, having seen subscriber defections en masse in recent years following its troubled integration with Nextel.

According to TNS Media Intelligence, Sprint spent $417 million on ads in the first six months of 2008.

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Contributing: Rich Thomaselli
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