The Ugly Truth of Print Shows, Penises and #MeToo

The correct answer for “How many penises have you seen in your workplace?” should be zero. For me, the answer is 2. And as shocking as that may seem to some of you, I am not alone. Search #MeToo for proof.

The sexual harassment scandals that are currently rocking the headlines are not limited to the hotels of Hollywood or the halls of government. That is the low hanging fruit; big names and big targets, people we “know” with much to lose by their abhorrent behavior.

What it’s time to talk about is right under our noses. And it’s not pretty.

#metoo - print media centr

Recently I was a trade show that had a very successful outreach with a design school. The students created materials using digital print technology for the first time, and the trade show created a space for them to share their creations. The students came to the show, participated in some formal programming, and walked the floor. On the surface, a successful partnership and experience was had by all. See their smiling faces and polite responses for reference.

Cut to the hotel.

A gaggle of college students walked in along with their teacher. We got to talking in the lounge area. It started off with great enthusiasm, the students were amazed by the digital print capabilities they were introduced to and eager to learn more on the show floor. Rather quickly their optimisim and excitement turned to disillusionment. The female students learned a few of the exhibitors at the show were not as enthusiastic about helping them learn as they were about gawking at them, and making inappropriate sexual overtures.

I have to admit, I was shocked. Believing them wasn’t a question. But the idea that this behavior was out in the open, literally in the aisles, made me feel a mixture of rage, shame and ultimately disappointment in the hypocrisy of our industry.

I promised the students I wouldn’t let it go.

Here is what I learned from them, about us:

Stop selling! Before they could be harassed, some of the students were dismissed and ignored by a few of the exhibitors they wanted to learn from. I have experienced this myself since I am also not a purchaser at trade shows, although if someone glances to see my press or speaker pass I can usually get some quick information. The students had no shot with their badges. They were devastated by this. It actually made me cry to hear that their excitement to embrace the print industry and learn how to use our technology in their design projects was squashed, multiple times.

Stop lying! That is for everyone who takes a “we need more students to embrace a career path in print” stance, and doesn’t do anything to create a proactive (and safe!) path for that to happen at industry events. How many audible moans and groans waft across the show floor on student days? Please, rethink this, and quickly. PLAN for them, embrace them and help them to embrace us through positive experience and knowledge sharing.

Stop hiding! To all of the business owners out there, now is the time to make sure your house in order. Review your sexual harassment policies, communicate no tolerance consequences to employees, and find out what is really going on in your office. For the events, I get that you cannot control behavior at every booth, but you can set an etiquette policy that all exhibitors must adhere to. Certainly, we can agree that the harassment and inappropriate behavior rules that apply to society, also apply under a convention hall roof… under your watch.

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As Girl #2 at Girls Who Print, I would be a hypocrite to let this student experience end when the lights at this show switched off. I did communicate with the shows’ management about the students, they were upset to say the least, and sadly found out that one of their own team had experienced inappropriate, i.e comments of a sexual nature, from an exhibitor at their own show! The magnitude of that truth should shake you to your core. If someone with a SHOW BADGE isn’t safe from sexual harassment at their own event, much worse is going on in the trade show halls and within your office walls… and trust me, it is. I’ve seen it, heard about it and experienced it first-hand. I am not alone.

While we don’t all agree on much these days, it appears most of us agree that zero is the number of penises one should be exposed to at work, zero is the number of sexual innuendos and comments one should be exposed to during a trade show, and zero will be the tolerance of those subjected to any of it, from now on.

My sincere thanks to the students for speaking up and saying NO… loud and clear.

DeborahCorn-PrintMediaCentrDeborah Corn is the Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse at PrintMediaCentr, a Print Buyerologist™, Integrated Marketer, Industry Speaker and Blogger, Cultivator of the Print Production Professionals Group, the #1 Print Group on LinkedIn, and host of #PrintChat, a weekly industry gathering on Twitter every Wednesday at 4PM ET. She has 25+ years experience working in advertising as a Print Producer, and currently works behind the scenes with printers, suppliers and industry organizations helping them to achieve success with their social media marketing endeavors, and create meaningful relationships.

Connect with Deborah: Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIn / Instagram / YouTube / Pinterest / Print Production Professionals Group /

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40 Responses

  1. Well done.
    Any vendor that belittles our future industry leaders is a fool.
    Stop being a sales person and be an advocate is what needs to happen.

    The sexual harassment is beyond me, I just don’t understand how some people can act this way, it is unacceptable on any level!
    Thanks for being the voice, I am proud of you for doing this.

  2. Brava, friend!! Thank you for championing change. There’s no room for this kind of behavior in the workplace or on the show floor. Shine that spotlight, Girl!!

  3. Sad and unacceptable situation that must be addressed.

    Did someone (the students, their prof, PMC, anyone) bring the harassment to the attention of the respective booths’ management teams?

  4. Hi Pete… as I mentioned in the post I told the show management what was told to me. I didnt want to know specifics nor did I ask for them. He said/she said isnt the point and it detracts from the major point of the post that this goes on out there.

  5. Thank you for so much for writing this and putting it out there. I am so sorry for your students. Hopefully #metoo will bring permanent change to subtle as well as blatant harassment. Here’s to no more girlie calendars and women’s bodies at equipment demos, enough is enough!

  6. Calm down, social justice warrior. Maybe you should stay away from the trade shows. The experience for the rest of us would be more enjoyable.

  7. Easy to say behind an anonymous email address “John”… why not come on out from behind the mask and contribute to making things better for everyone.

  8. And… Tell the Vendors no scantily clad hired help during the show. Like the Scissorhand display at the last Chicago PRINT show.

  9. Thank you for voicing this. I’ve seen way too many scantily clad women at print tradeshows. I’ve even seen a “show” in Europe where almost naked women covered in paint rolled around a canvas to create “art”. And I will never forget the Marilyn Monroe show where a lookalike sat on mens’ laps in the audience and sang to them. All vendors need to set an example.

  10. Thank you, Deborah, for writing about this. This behavior is completely unacceptable. The printing world is very male-oriented and somehow it just seems to slip off its axis and go to the “dark side” with inappropriate remarks and behavior. When I go to a trade show, I want to know about the products, not be the recipient of inappropriate remarks. It’s supposed to be fun, but it’s also supposed to be business.

  11. Good on you for raising this issue. Totally inappropriate, vulgar and unprofessional behavior. Hopefully some lessons learnt sadly at the expense of innocent young individuals.

  12. Thanks for writing about this! Both the harassment and the fact the students are so disrespected is tragic. I’ve worked in higher ed print for 31 years and have taught print production for 4 years. Our design students thrive on learning new technologies and hands on experiences. It critical for them to be allowed to learnin environments that respect and appreciate their inquisitiveness.

  13. Thank you Deb for bringing this behavior to light. I’d like to say that I’m shocked and surprised at hearing such a story, but in reality I can’t really do so. We all need to examine our behavior and how we are representing the industry to young people, both female and male. Fortunately we have been able to attract some outstanding youth into the field, but how many have been lost due to Neanderthal behavior and attitude? Especially these days when females greatly outnumber males in most graphics programs, we should be aware of how we are presenting the graphics field. I hope this article gets widespread viewership.

  14. Thank you for the comment John, and for the work you do with PGSf and for the industry. I hope you share this post with the students, and encourage them to speak out if they have a similiar experience.

  15. This was fantastic! Thank you for writing this. I very much agree with eliminating the scantily clad women at trade shows. I personally find it degrading to women. I as a business owner hope that there is a change in the industry. From trade shows to client meetings. This behavior has gone on for way too long in my opinion.

  16. Thanks Laura. The saddest part was seeing their enthusisam turn to disgust when describing this situation to me. Like with John, I hope you share this post with the students, and encourage them to speak out if they have a similiar experience.

  17. THEO! Appreciate your comment as always. From your vantage point in Australia… are things better/different or the same down under?

  18. Thank you for publishing this reality. This behavior is not to be tolerated and everyone needs to call it out and not accept it anymore.

  19. Deb, thank you for sharing this. I’m not shocked nearly as much as I’m disappointed. I’ve seen this behavior at shows and industry events. Particularly events where alcohol was present. That said, this is the best thing I’ve read in years. For those of us who love this industry, we have to commit to making it the best it can be. That goes beyond technology, marketing, etc. It starts with solid core values and behavior.

  20. Appreciate your kind words Pat, and yeah… it will take a committment from everyone to make a positive change. These conversations help.

  21. Thank you! As others have said, the “booth babes” should be a thing of the past. While I am fortunate to have not experienced harassment, I know the feeling of being at a show trying to learn only to be ignored or pushed aside because I am salesperson and not a purchaser. My best experiences were the folks who recognized that my gaining knowledge helps customers, which helps revenues and purchasers ability to buy and keep the print industry going strong!

  22. It is quite sad to believe this would happen at our Print Show. Scary world we live in and getting worse by the minute not by the day. On the other side of education in the past few shows, I have personally visited all the schools that have booths at the show. I have given sample pieces. I have offered free education to come and teach the students about hot & cold foiling. I have never received a call or email saying thank you, or not interested, nothing. They are their to learn and educate but no response.

  23. Hi Mike! first, thanks for what you do for the students (and us as the result). Ive been lucky enough to speak to the Graphic Communications students at Clemson a few times, even one online event, and I have received numerous handwritten thank you cards and notes from the students each time. I dont think I am any more worthy than you, but perhaps it’s a teacher thing vs a student thing in some cases. Good point though, if exhibitors dont feel they are making a connection with the students they speak with, they may be more apt to “dismiss” them when they roll up to their booths.

  24. Every industry, every workplace must take proactive efforts to create a safe and professional atmosphere for all genders and people of color to succeed. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the law! See something, say something. Thanks Deb.

  25. I wish this were a thing of the past. But it isn’t. Long ago, I published an article on Print Sales and Sexual Harassment. What prompted it was the biggest shock I’d ever gotten from participants in a series of focus groups. The groups were comprised of print buyers, two-thirds of which were women. There were six groups in all, conducted in three cities over the course of a week. The issue surfaced in the first one.

    I asked the group to describe the “unforgivable sin” that would end either an active relationship with a print supplier or consideration of one. Two participants, both women, started a whispered sidebar conversation as someone else was speaking. Since that ran contrary to the ground rules, I asked if they would share their conversation with the group. After they exchanged glances, the more vocal of the two said: “Sexual harassment by a printing salesperson.” That was the first and only time I’ve ever been shocked into silence while facilitating a focus group.

    So I asked the whole group whether anyone else in the group had experienced the same from a print vendor. Every woman’s hand went up. I framed questions to bring the same issue to the surface in the succeeding groups without “leading” them to it. And it surfaced every time. The behavior they described was pervasive. And I was appalled.

    Owners of graphic communications companies are sometimes surprised or mystified when a large opportunity evaporates or a large customer defects. Too often, they will trust the feedback of the salesperson who will blame a change in personnel, or leadership, or ownership, or strategy. Obviously, no print (or equipment, or service, or technology) salesperson is going to admit having done something so egregious and being cut off as a result. That argues for business owners making direct contact, and carefully asking questions when a customer relationship goes sideways.

    So, bravo for dragging this into the daylight. Industry companies need more than simply policies and training. They need leaders who have a bedrock commitment to professional, appropriate, honorable, respectful and collaborative behavior at all times and in all circumstances.

  26. Thanks so much for sharing this info Wayne, and you made an amazing point! I have told a few printers “stories” to end our relationship when their behavior, or jokes, or comments just werent working. You are 10000% right, the owners (or someone) should follow up when customers leave, especially when there is no history of service issues.

  27. This makes me sad and mad. I worked many paper tradeshows and felt it was a wonderful experience for all. We wanted to share information and educational materials with creatives and marketing professionals. I looked forward to meeting new people and gathering good contacts. We looked at students as our future in business.

    If this was going on at these shows, I am sorry I did not see it. This behavior has no place in any industry! I’m glad you pointed it out to the show management.

  28. There is definitely a need for change. There is a good amount of people and groups on the right track. Hopefully, sooner than later, we can all better work together on eliminating this issue that has gone on far too long.
    There are enough issues regarding tribe and gender. In one of the most creative fields, this should have never gotten this far.
    Having heard and seen many of these things over the years, as a father and a spouse I am very disappointed.

  29. Harassment doesn’t occur all the time, or at every show, or by every man. It is an insidious, primarily testosterone driven male bonding exercise. I recently saw a documentary on a band of chimpanzees. The males, in their natural quest for dominance, tried to attract attention with wild gesticulation, jumping around and howling at the top of their lungs. While the narrator said this acting out was in one part for the females benefit, it was in a larger part to trump the behavior of the other chimps. I suspect this exercise is not too different from the trade show pot-bellied, combed-over, quota driven men you observed. To me, this is simply one more aspect of the print industry that needs to evolve.

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