A food-packaging company was rapidly becoming a heavy-hitter in its market and taking up serious shelf space in grocery stores like Whole Foods.
The owner called in a panic on a Friday afternoon. A consumer was claiming a charred cigarette butt made its way into one of his products.
This was impossible because the food received several stages of heat treatment, the owner explained. If a cigarette butt did indeed find its way into the production line, it would’ve disintegrated.
So why was he so panicked?
A reporter had heard the allegation and called asking for comment. It was the first the owner heard of it.
The story was to be published on Monday. (This is highly uncommon. Usually, you’re given minutes — not days — to respond before the reporter hits “Publish”.)
This raised several questions. Was there any truth to the allegation? Was a competitor behind it because they felt threatened? How much damage could it cause to the manufacturer’s reputation?
“We’ll craft a statement, work with the media, and get this resolved,” we said.
“Oh, that won’t be necessary. I resolved it myself,” he replied.
Then why was he calling?
“I just wanted your opinion. I asked the reporter the name of the consumer making the accusation, called him directly and asked, ‘How much will it cost to make this go away?’”
We were shocked. “What does your lawyer think about this?”
Sounding a bit uneasy, the owner replied, “I didn’t call one. Do you think I should have?”
“Absolutely. You should’ve called your lawyer as soon as you heard about it. Now you’ve bribed someone who according to you has no case whatever. That puts a large Kick Me! sign on your back for anyone looking for a quick payday. We need to handle this immediately. We’ll get back to the reporter. If you don’t have a lawyer, we have someone in mind.”
“I’ll think about it over the weekend,” the owner said. “But first, I’m off to play golf!”
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