Smoke & Mirrors: Preparing for an AGM

Smokehouse's AGM is always a magnet for the unhinged: this year, one of them is determined to come between the comms chief and his clanger-prone CEO.

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 27 Mar 2014


It's AGM week for Smokehouse plc, which is a communication director's worst nightmare, obviously. First headache is the fact that our bewigged CEO, Lynton Spivey, will be expected to say something. The nerve that runs between the CEO's brain and mouth is the single biggest threat to the share price. It's my job to see that he never uses that nerve.

But at the AGM, it's unavoidable. The second nightmare is that AGMs are nutter magnets. Food, alcohol and the chance to grab a microphone are a lethal combination. Recently, we've had online abuse from some psycho; I beg your pardon, we've had valuable consumer feedback from one particular individual, and my fear is that the AGM will be an excuse for a personal appearance, possibly in a suicide vest.


As if I didn't have enough to worry about, Celeste Nibelle, our head of diversity and top totty, has been bending my ear about adding diversity to the Smokehouse board.

I pointed out that we already had a northerner, in the shape of our FD, Peter Barnsworth, but apparently this isn't enough. We should be aiming for 50% females. I've explored my feminine side, surely that's enough?

Phoned a headhunter and asked his secretary to give me a call. She was, in fact, the headhunter and after some minor clarifications agreed to find a suitable female non-exec for us. She asked what I was looking for in a non-exec, but I didn't think I should get too anatomical at that stage.


More abusive emails from our psycho. One of Smokehouse's bestsellers is a male fertility test - to see if you're shooting blanks. I won't tell you the exact test, but it involves a hands-on technique that most men are extremely comfortable with.

The marketing department came up with a Valentine's Day promotion of a pregnancy and fertility test in one packet with a free box of chocolates. To be honest, it wasn't their finest hour, and it had the side effect of stirring up some world-class abuse from our valued customers, many of whom, I suspect, are doing the test on a regular and voluntary basis without regard to the results.

Headhunter called and said she'd found a suitable candidate and would arrange an informal meeting. Occurred to me that this could be a useful way of dating in the future. Or I could just type in 'non-exec' on eHarmony and save myself a fortune in headhunters' fees.


Spent morning preparing CEO's AGM speech, which brilliantly combines brevity and obfuscation in one impenetrable mass of jargon. Also reminded myself to order a tall lectern. When Spivey looks down too much, his hairpiece tends to shift, which frightens the stakeholders. My phone rang. The tone was 'Babylon's Burning', which I reserve for the CEO, as that's normally the tone of our conversation.

He was just checking the catering arrangements. Normally, the hungry hordes of shareholders arrive and make straight for the buffet, where they then raise their legitimate concerns about the business by burying their faces in the profiteroles. I once suggested we add a light dusting of sleeping powder to the buffet to cut down on annoying interactions in the afternoon, but this was rejected by the board, who were unusually alert.


It's AGM day. We're in a hotel room with the world's most psychedelic carpet. I booked it in the hope people won't notice what's happening on stage. During the reception, I surrounded the CEO with a doughnut of people from the IT department, which acted as a natural social prophylactic.

I then patrolled the floor one pace behind the CEO on nutter alert. Didn't take long before I noticed one woman trying to push through the massed ranks of geeks. She did this a couple of times till I had to employ the 'chairman needs a quick word' excuse to bundle Spivey off to safety.

Conference finally finished and the 'nutter' broke through to introduce herself as our new non-exec. Slightly embarrassing, but then, as I reminded her, it's not easy getting on the board.

- Guy Browning can be contacted at

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