Smoke & Mirrors: The trouble with creatives

Can the comms chief put a stop to newly integrated conglomerate Smokehouse being rebranded Hyphen by an overconfident marketing agency?

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 04 Dec 2015


We all know when our bewigged CEO Lynton Spivey is not happy at home because he does some corporate activity at work. I can only assume his marriage is completely on the rocks because in the last week we've completed hostile takeovers of two companies. The companies thought they were in a long-term synergistic joint venture with us until our CEO took some emotional comfort in the arms of investment bankers. So this week we are the proud owners of Red Brick, a surgical gimbal manufacturer, Shaw IT, a medical telemetrics business, and also a massive chunk of debt to pay for them. The good news is that we are now vertically integrated and the bankers have left the building.


Where the investment banker jackals have ripped open the carcass, the marketing vultures are never far behind to pick over the bones. We now have marketing consultants coming to rebrand our vertically integrated conglomerate. Of course, now that we're servicing debts not far short of our turnover the marketing budget has been reduced to a pittance. Our marketing director Narinder Shah told Spivey quite forcefully that Smokehouse was an established brand known throughout the surgical appliance world (she didn't specify what we were known for thank goodness). Lynton Spivey did a little defensive wig adjustment and said this was an opportunity to employ a hungry and dangerous and therefore very cheap agency.


We had our beauty parade of marketing consultants and we've gone for the most hungry and dangerous. Spivey has picked an outfit called Sperm Count (I'm not making this up). They are three men with an average age of 22, all bearded like Isambard Kingdom Brunel's engineering team. To give full vent to their creative self-expression, they were all wearing practically identical shirts and trousers. It always puzzles me how creative people all look the same. Most of their presentation was taken up by destroying our current brand, which they called Smokestack (wrong name) and disrespecting pharmaceuticals (wrong industry). Our CEO warmed to their authenticity especially after our CFO turned to the back page of their presentation and pointed out their laughably small daily rate.


You would have thought as corporate communications director I would have a say in all this rebranding. Sadly I am still being punished for my last foray into marketing. It's a long story but basically I commissioned some branded Smokehouse key rings with powerful micro-torches attached for colorectal examinations. I thought they were a brilliantly targeted use of media but apparently there was a technical issue and they had to be withdrawn (as it were). So the first whiff I got of the rebranding was when Narinder burst into my office in tears. Sperm Count wants to call our integrated company Hyphen and our logo is, wait for it, a hyphen. It looked very much like a minus sign and I pointed out that much of our financials were already heavily branded in this way. Frighteningly, we both knew that if Spivey saw the presentation he would love it.


The Sperm Count team have come to present their work.They've insisted on an almost dark anechoic (I think that means quiet) room. As I showed them the way, I gifted them one of our famous (and soon to be historic) Smokehouse key rings. The Board gathered, the lights went down and as Sperm Count explained how Red Brick, Shaw IT and Smokehouse were going to be seamlessly merged, something curiously exciting happened. A bright light started beaming from each of their groin areas in an interesting light show. Shortly afterwards they revealed their hyphen, right in the middle of two recently added words Brick-Shithouse. There was confusion in the Sperm Count ranks, which in the dark looked like a light sabre clash. Then it was all over. Spivey got angry, Sperm Count left still hungry and I remain quietly dangerous.

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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