Smoke & Mirrors: Choosing a company strapline

Can surgical supplies business Smokehouse sum up its business in an engaging, authentic way? And which wig will the CEO be wearing?

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 04 Apr 2016


I've noticed that everyone who works in the City tries very hard to avoid the word 'money'. Similarly you'll never hear anyone who works in the NHS using the word 'death'. Here at Smokehouse we all take great pains never to utter the word 'wig'. That's because our glorious leader and CEO Lynton Spivey wears one. Correction. He wears a number of different wigs. Firstly, he has his shorter 'haircut' wig to give the impression he's just had one. Then he has his mid-length steady-state wig. Finally, he has his just off the collar pre-haircut wig, which he normally wears the day before some important event in the racing calendar when he needs a day off for the 'hairdresser'. No one in the company has ever noticed that he's bald and will continue not noticing if they value their job.


Yesterday was a race day, I beg your pardon, hairdresser day so everyone is looking forward to seeing 'haircut' wig today. It duly arrived unnoticed in the boardroom in time for our crisis talks about marketing collateral. As I'm sure you're aware Smokehouse is one of the UK's leading providers of surgical supplies, prosthetic appliances and associated weird medical shite. But we're having difficulty communicating that in an engaging, relevant, artisanal, and authentic way. Spivey wants a pithy strapline along the lines of 'The World's Favourite Airline'. The board came up with all sorts of interesting suggestions: 'Kneecapping our Customers', 'Dying to do Business With Us', 'We're Taking the Piss', 'The Best In Continents', etc. All wonderful of course but slightly off brand.


The trouble is last year we used highly paid consultants to dream up a new company strapline for us. After a lot of intensive invoicing they came up with 'The Power of Now'. The Brand Team liked it and said they would take about a year to implement it. At its internal unveiling last week the Yorkshire office immediately added a 't' to the Now. 'The Power of Nowt' is actually a beautiful summary of our Northern Region's sales performance in Q2-3. Spivey decided it was now unusable so it's back to the drawing board with the added problem that we only have two days before all our literature goes to press. No self-respecting agency is going to do anything in that time. Fortunately I know an agency where self-respect comes a long way below self-abuse in their corporate values.


I used to work with this agency because they shared my passion for rugby and real ale. I can't remember any of the work we did, but I do know we had a bloody good time. Eventually we had to let them go because of some trifling financial/legal/sexual/diplomatic incident. I gave them a call and we met up for a working lunch, which prompted waves of nostalgia in my liver. All three of the guys were now bald. They looked like the team from Mars. Not even a beard in sight to bring up the hair averages. They said they'd try and rustle up a strapline overnight, but in the meantime they gave me the standard presentation they give all clients to justify their work. We agreed we would pop the new line in at the last moment.


Spivey arrived in his long pre-haircut wig, which represents six months growth in three days. Worse it had clearly been glued on in a hurry because it was on back to front. Before I could do a company email about the corporate risk this represented, I got a phone call from the agency boys who were in the car park. Apparently they'd been on the train that morning and still being a bit merry after their overnight brainstorm had cheekily asked Spivey what pet he had on his head. They'd followed him off the train all the way to our office and then suddenly realised who he was. Obviously they stayed outside, while I did the standard presentation (surprisingly relevant). The final slide with the strapline reveal said 'Smokehouse - Insert Here'. Spivey loved its artisanal authenticity and we're going to press. And that, friends, is The Power of Now.

Guy Browning is the author of The British Constitution: First Draft, published by Atlantic Books at £7.99. He can be contacted at

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Leading from a distance: Remote working for the C-suite

Leadership lessons video panel: Chris Hirst, CEO of Havas Creative; Matt Peers, COO of Linklaters;...

There’s little point saving your business if you let your market die

Opinion: The nature of the coronavirus pandemic demands we look out for each other.

C-suite and furloughed

Use this as an opportunity to take a breath and get some perspective, says this...

Books for CEOs: Daniel Goleman, Jack Welch, Nelson Mandela

Beaverbrooks CEO Anna Blackburn shares her reading list.

What happens next: COVID-19 lessons from Italian CEOs

Part I: Marco Alvera, chief executive of €15bn Lombardy-based energy firm Snam, on living with...

Coronavirus communications: Dos and don'ts

Uncertainty and isolation make it more important than ever to be seen, to be heard...