Some of the top public relations minds in the tobacco industry had planned the entire operation down to the finest detail. The glossy press kits had gone out, the pertinent information had been leaked to the press. They were going to show just how absured government regulation could be.
Unfortunately, no one told the truck driver.
The ill-fated table began in 1976, when Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., five other cigarette manufactures and 20 advertising agencies were hit with subpoenas from the Federal Trade Commission seeking information and materials on 15 years of cigarette advertising and marketing.
The information sought was in connection with the ongoing FTC investigation into the effects of cigarette advertising on the public that began in 1964, when the FTC staff submitted a report to the commission contending that cigarette advertising was deceptive and unfair.
After a court fight in March 1979, the companies were ordered to comply and begin supplying information. The five other tobacco companies decided to submit material by prearranged schedule with the FTC, but the court gave all six firms the option of bringing all of the requested material in at once.
So the B&W public relation staff came up with the idea of delivering all of the documents requested -- some 200 boxes worth. Weighing about 7 tons -- to Washington in one truck, and quietly tipping the press as to the arrival time and place. 9-30 a.m. on Thursday, July 5. At the White House, this is known as a Photo opportunity."
But the plot thickens. Someone, presumably in the press, tipped the FTC about the pending media event. Not to be outdone, the FTC made arrangements to divert the B&W truck to another building before it ever reached the horde of waiting reports and photographers.
With all of these plans and counterplans set in motion, one can imagine the suprise on FTC attorney Jane Dolkart's face when independent tuck driver George Wright knocked on her office door yesterday morning.
"He said he had a truckload of documents from Brown & Williamson downstairs and wanted to know where to deliver them," said said. "I couldn't believe it. And he didn't have any people to unload it, either." [B&W had been ordered to deliver the documents to Dolkart's office.]
She called B&W Vice President and General Counsel Ernest Pepples in Louisville to tell him that the truck had arrived early, and that she would arrange to have FTC personnel unload it.
"He didn't know that I knew about their plan to have the press here on Thursday," Dolkart said. "So he said he was concerned that I would have to take people away from their jobs just to do this, and he didn't want to put us to the trouble."
Instead, the driver told Pepples over the phone that no one had told him to wait until Thursday.
Then Pepples told the driver to get back in the truck and not to return until until Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
After hanging up, the driver turned to Dolkart with a puzzled look on his face and said, "I'm gonna have a good time for two days."
Reached by telephone in Louisville, where the shipment originated, Pepples confirmed that he had pulled the driver back and asked him to return at the designated time with the load that had cost B&W 24,000 man hours and $800,000 to put together.
"I'm not used to dealing with this sort of problems," Pepples said. "Usually, people complain that deliveries don't reach customers on time." CAPTION: Picture, Brown & Williamson employes prepare documents to comply with the Federal Trade Commission subpoena for agency's investigation of cigarette ads. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.