Our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag —Booth Babes And The Disconnect With PMA’s Position On Women’s Careers, brought several responses including this bluntly spoken one:
I like the booth babes!
Really, who has the voice here? The two dissenting voices outnumber the hundreds that like them?
Sounds like jealousy to me. BTW, the Iran trade shows do not have any booth babes either. I don’t think anybody is going to stop and talk to the Burka Babes.
One has to give credit where credit is due, and Mr. Ward Thomas is, without a doubt, a very brave man.
Of course, more than a few people will read this letter, check out his web site and find delicious irony in the fact that Mr. Thomas has elected to feature a cartoon celebrating the Neanderthals proceeding to carve up their favorite kill — the “woolly watermelon.”
The issue is not as clear as either side would have it.
On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with either sex appreciating beauty. There is substantial research indicating that being attractive is an advantage in life. For an exhibitor to want to make its booth beguiling — with beautiful colors, wonderful graphics, stunning effects and, yes, beautiful people, is not really an evil.
On the other side, it is understandable to hold that people are not objects and they should not be objectified.
The problem is that talents and abilities are not equally distributed.
We find our letter-writer needlessly offensive in alleging jealousy — many women who object to this practice are quite attractive — and clearly Mr. Thomas has never met Lorri or Dan’l. And, truthfully, many men object to the practice as well, especially in the context of a professional event.
Yet there is an issue of devaluing the attributes that some people bring to the table. Some women are brilliant, some are diligent, some are beautiful — and some combine all of these traits. Remember the movie Working Girl, in which Tess McGill (played by Melanie Griffith) explained that she had “A head for business and a bod for sin?” What if a woman doesn’t have the head for business? Is it wrong for a woman to capitalize on what competitive advantages she has to make a living?
Indeed, if men are so stupid — and the recent revelations that General Petraus had an affair reminds us of how often men make decisions based on the flesh — why shouldn’t a woman take full advantage of male stupidity? Do you think Dolly Parton gets outraged when a man looks at her breasts? She knows how to control men and not let them control her.
No, so hiring attractive women as eye candy to hang around a booth is, in this sense, no more objectionable than giving away real candy to attract people to the booth.
Theoretically, a booth could do the same thing with attractive men. At the Fancy Food Shows, there are large Italian pavilions, and it is not uncommon to hear American women get flummoxed at the beautiful dark-haired men making pasta and drinking wine. But whether that really attracts women, we will leave to some other commentator.
The real issue is three-fold:
First, for the men. What are you at the show for? Where is your focus? Getting drawn into booths because you are titillated is likely to make you less focused. Indeed isn’t the whole point of exhibitors promoting sex appeal to distract you from making decisions — such as where to spend time at a trade show — strictly on a business basis?
Second, for the companies that send buyers to the show: Do these companies want this to be a focus? Sending people for business, many of these companies would probably find all this a distraction. That it happens would make them question the motivations of the employees who request to go to these events.
Third, for the organizations that sponsor the events: How do you maintain a professional atmosphere while still having a fun event?
Plus, the larger issue for exhibitors making decisions is to think of marketing in a broader sense. Yes, doing various things can be a short term win. But do these things lead to long-term reputational enhancement? If not, how can they possibly be the right thing to do?
We will say that Mr. Thomas makes a subtle but astute point. This is America. This means we bias toward freedom, even when we don’t like it. We can discuss these issues, but the power, in the end, lies with voluntary choice, not Iran-like bans. If buyers don’t buy because they don’t like a firm’s method of marketing, if buyers don’t attend because they find an event unprofessional, that is the way we produce change here in America.
Many thanks to Ward Thomas for being willing to stand up for what he believes. We have too much political correctness, and more honesty would help us resolve issues sooner and more effectively.