Smoke & Mirrors: If only you could fire charities like agencies

Smokehouse's comms chief plays a mean trick on his ex-wife and his trainspotting boss finds immortality does not come cheap.

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2015


At our board meeting last week, the finance director, Peter Barnsworth, woke from a deep coma and said the company was about to go under. He told us we needed to make big cuts and then went back to his online betting or whatever FDs do all day. Used to work for Tescos. Fortunately, our bewigged CEO, Lynton Spivey, solved the entire problem by saying we just needed to do less with more. I think he meant more with less, but you never know with him. Reverse scalability, he called it. His ability to manage by cliche never ceases to amaze me. Of course what we really need to do is cut the finance department but like the NHS it's ring-fenced and probably booby-trapped.


Barnsworth has been through the figures and apparently he has identified one area of fat that can be trimmed. Given that he is colossally overweight that's quite a conceptual leap for him. Apparently, our corporate giving is too high. Originally, we supported this charity called Leg Up, which recycled crutches. Of course when you grow as a business you have to support a better class of charity so we dumped Leg Up and I believe it collapsed shortly afterwards. We then got into bed with a big organisation called Life Crisis, mostly because I was in bed with its marketing director at the time. I've divorced her and now it's time to get rid of her charity.


Clearly when you want to ditch a big charity you don't want to give the impression that the milk of your corporate kindness has curdled. Personally, I think you should be able to fire charities just like agencies and say they were a nightmare to work with and their campaigns were rubbish. Charities are basically businesses with added self-righteousness. Isn't it about time they started supporting business? Big corporations are far more ethical than charities. They really should be shadowing us to see just how much of our bottom line goes on supporting the minutest human right of everyone we employ. Fortunately, I remember that my ex used a small print firm called Isis Print based in Oxford. I've therefore tweeted that we're no longer supporting Life Crisis as it does business with ISIS. It's a little bit naughty but no worse than our divorce.


Now we need to support a charity that is cheap, but that Spivey also supports. The normal problem with CEOs is that they buy a yacht and then suddenly want to sponsor some round-the-island race that would reach a target market of about six people worldwide. Fortunately, Spivey's passion is trains, which is obviously sad but refreshingly cheap. Apparently, he's always wanted to have his name on a train but for that to happen you either have to have engineered a large part of Great Western or be a union leader who has stopped a large part of Great Western. I did my research and found him a heritage railway in north Wales that will give naming rights on a small engine for the price of my first-class season ticket from home. It took me about 20 seconds to persuade him that this was a world-class marketing opportunity for Smokehouse.


We took the train to north Wales, changing more times than Grayson Perry. I've never seen our CEO so happy. By the time we arrived he'd written down more numbers than a year's worth of budgeting meetings. The heritage railway is run and supported by men on final salary pensions who retired at 54. We'll never see their like again. We finally got to the engine shed, which was in fact a garden shed, and then the local trainspotter whipped a tea towel off an engine the size of a small dog. On the bright side, it did say Lynton Spivey on the side. We may or may not correct that spelling in due course. For our CEO, let's say it was a bittersweet moment. I told him with a bit of Photoshopping we could get a photo of him next to a proper-size train. It was a triumph of reverse scalability. More or less.

Guy Browning is the author of How to be Normal: A Guide for the Perplexed, published by Atlantic at £12.99. He can be contacted at

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