Booth Babes: Al Jolson, The Supreme Court, Self-Promotion And How Context Can Make All The Difference
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, January 22, 2013
The subject that just won’t die rolls on. We’ve run five pieces so far on the subject of “Booth Babes,” and the broader issue of PMA policy:
1) Pundit’s Mailbag — Booth Babes And The Disconnect With PMA’s Position On Women’s Careers
2) Pundit’s Mailbag — Nothing Wrong With Booth Babes!
3) Pundit’s Mailbag — “Booth Babes”, Professionalism and Hypocrisy: What Should PMA’s Policy Be?
4) Pundit’s Mailbag — United Fresh And Others Weigh In On Booth Babes
5) Pundit’s Mailbag — Booth Babes Issue Rolls On With Discourse About Beauty, PMA Exhibit Policy, Marketing Tactics And Proper Attire
Some commenters are those who have commented previously, as Deidre Smyrnos of CF Fresh did both here and much earlier here, but she has come back to take another swing:
Deidre is passionate on this issue. The question, however, is precisely what will “offend people,” and it is not easy to write out that definition in a way that PMA or anyone else could enforce. Even advocates of restrictions have written in exceptions for native dress, for example. Others seem more concerned with what the “booth babes” mentioned in the initial piece were signing than what they were wearing. It may well matter that the “Daisy Duke” dress was taken from a TV show, The Dukes of Hazzard, as, presumably, one can use excerpts from popular culture — plays, movies, music, TV etc., in a booth.
No show organizer would tolerate any exhibitor who was doing something that was widely viewed as offensive. But defining a standard is another thing entirely. PMA is not the first to struggle with such an issue. No less an august body than The Supreme Court of the United States struggled to define pornography with its decision in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). In one of the most famous lines from a Supreme Court decision, Justice Potter Steward wrote a concurrence that, famously, included this:
Almost all show organizers have some line in their contracts requiring professional dress and conduct or, at least, acquiescence to the rules of the event which require the same. Beyond that, like Justice Potter, they ban offensive exhibitors when they seem offensive to the organizers or when they cause a lot of complaints.
Of course, Lorri Koster’s point, made both here and here, is that PMA should conduct itself to an especially high standard because it has decided to make one if its flagship values women’s professional development. This includes a new conference, the Women’s Fresh Perspectives event at Fresh Summit, and the Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways Scholarship program that brings in students both male and female. In this view the issue is not what is generally offensive, it is what is consistent with PMA’s pro-female executive positioning. She makes a pretty strong case.
Of course, others have different priorities. One frequent Pundit correspondent notes that one contributor to this thread, a man who contributed here, here and here, may be laughing all the way to the bank:
Of course, during The New York Produce Show and Conference, the Pundit frequently heard the same joke as people approached us and inquired as to the presence of “booth babes” at the show. We never have very many, as our policy of restricting companies to one booth tends to keep the focus on business, and the New York milieu keeps things rather businesslike. In an age where many shows are a sea of golf shirts, standard attire at the New York event is still jacket and tie.
In fact, as best we could tell, there was only one “booth babe” at the show, a story captured by Pundit sister publication, PerishableNews.com, in a tongue-in-cheek story:
Lone Booth Babe Appears At New York Produce Show & Conference
Following recent scrutiny in the trade press, “booth babes” steered clear of this year's New York Produce Show and Conference.
To the disappointment of produce moguls who looked forward to mingling with young women dressed for an evening at a Manhattan dance club or a fantasy luau, female brand ambassadors were instead often indistinguishable from full-time salespeople.
In addition, hundreds of vendors were observed using beautiful signage, fresh samples, handshakes, and other conventional tactics to draw traffic, all of which may be worrisome for booth babes and their advocates.
Foxy Claus, the lone delegate from the old guard, appeared to have been in hiding at times. When she could be found at the Pretty Lady booth, businessmen giddily posed alongside her in photos that may soon be tokens from a bygone era. Miss Claus was later spotted hiding from this photographer and quietly leaving through a secondary exit.
The story brought a defense of at least this particular booth babe by a noted marketer and former booth babe who was involved in this marketing effort:
To us, this particular “booth babe” was brilliant and for precisely the reason that Lorri Koster and Dan’l Mackey Almy found the booth babes at PMA so inappropriate. They saw PMA as being inconsistent in its branding and so critiqued its decision to allow that behavior at its expo.
This “booth babe” was representing Pretty Lady grapes. She was sharp and knowledgeable, pleasant to be around, dressed in a tasteful Santa-themed dress and, most important of all; she was, in fact, a pretty lady representing Pretty Lady grapes.
It was a perfect alignment of positioning and execution, marketing genius.
There is a time and a place for everything. The challenge is to get them in sync.
Many thanks to Deidre Smyrnos, Eric Schwartz and Lori Hickey for weighing in on this controversy.