Smoke & Mirrors: Rising to the challenge

When the comms chief finds Smokehouse has falsified data for its erectile dysfunction vacuum pump, he gets that sinking feeling.

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 29 Jan 2016


As I'm sure you're aware, one of Smokehouse's product lines is a vacuum pump for erectile dysfunction. It doesn't come up normally but it's shown spectacular growth recently. As a general rule our bewigged CEO Linton Spivey doesn't pay much attention to our product range except for whatever he's currently using. When he first joined the company about 20 years ago, he was very interested in hair restorers but now he's suddenly turning his attention to our vacuum pump or Trident to give it its proper name. This morning he was flicking through the Trident sales presenter and was waxing lyrical about the effectiveness stats. Apart from one grisly demo illustration, the rest of the presentation is sunrises, rocket launches, mushrooms etc. All beautifully designed.


As corporate communications director one of my many jobs is to prevent the CEO making a public tit of himself. Generally that involves me making sure he doesn't say anything, do anything or move a muscle for extended periods. It also involves me knowing about his working style and his personal life away from the office. Which is why I know he's been seen outside the business in the company of our receptionist Marsha in activities that strain the definition of professional. Of course, what two consenting adults do in private is up to them but I'm not sure Spivey's wife did any consenting. From experience, I know that his wife makes most of Spivey's intelligent decisions so his extracurricular activities are now in the corporate risk box.


Medical reps as you know are always on the attractive side but Hannah Swanson, our erectile dysfunction rep, is a stunner as they say on LinkedIn. If she doesn't do it for you then you're going to need one of our pumps. I don't know if that's how the mind of the consumer works but she certainly sells a lot of Tridents. This morning Hannah was in my office and she wasn't happy. Spivey had apparently demanded a meeting with her and then grilled her on all the statistics in the Trident sales presenter. She admitted she didn't know where they came from and what testing regime was involved but she couldn't understand why Spivey was being quite so aggressive. When she'd gone I cancelled all Spivey's other meetings because I sensed he was in one of his firing-people-as-therapy moods.


In emotional situations like this the first place you visit is the Finance Department. I had a quick look at Spivey's corporate credit card statement and surprise surprise he'd spent the night in a hotel with presumably Marsha in one hand and Trident in the other. I then had a bit of a root around on our server and looked through the marketing departments files. It turns out that the figures in the Trident sales presenter were inserted by the design agency as holding text until we could give them the proper stats. However, these agency stats were so good no one bothered to replace them. In fact we probably didn't have any stats in the first place. When that sales presenter hit the streets, sales really started to perk up. So maybe it wasn't all Hannah Swanson.


When you have falsified data that's been deceiving your customers, the board have to act decisively. The judgement we had to make was whether anyone is likely to stand up and sue us in public for an ineffective pump and whether there would be a class action from the impotent. My guess is not. Our HR director Brenda Wayzgoose suggested that Spivey should make a public televised apology and then stand down, like the VW boss. And that's why Brenda's days as HR director are numbered. Instead we all acted decisively and did a bit of pre-emptive sacking of our design agency, which cheered Spivey up no end. I then put together a little press release. 'Over many years Smokehouse has built a business on a basis of trust with our customers. With Trident, Smokehouse has betrayed this trust. We let our customers down.' As it were.

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

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