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Monday, August 4, 2014

It's Hard out there for a PIMP

My most favorite memories from the incentive world are from when it was new and fresh...and I worked for someone else. I was internal customer service at the time and at trade shows, had no responsibility for customers or suppliers.  The Incentive trade shows were huge in the 80's and so it was easy to get lost.

I joined Watrous Associates in March of 1979 and went to my first Incentive show in New York City in May of 1979.  We were staying at The Plaza - just a little intimidating.  An Egg McMuffin (okay, Eggs Benedict) at the Palm Court was $12 - in 1979!   It was my first trip to NY, my first time traveling for business and the first time meeting customers in person that I had only spoken with over the phone.

The woman who hired me was a master of first impressions.  (I was a Behavioral Psych major, recently graduated, and felt fairly confident that I could read people.  Not so much.)  We'll call her Crazy Nancy.  She's unfortunately deceased now, so no need to disguise her identity.  Crazy Nancy was very blonde, very attractive and had an interesting wardrobe for trade shows. (She is another whole blog post of her own.) She literally had a Kimono-style wrap bathrobe cut off and hemmed to make it into a dress.  She greeted every male supplier with a big hug and a kiss, necessitating a bend that unwrapped the upper half of the "dress". (She was Leaning In when Sheryl Sandberg was in elementary school.)  I was in my conservative brown suit and quickly discerned that I would never be remembered at all if I walked the show with Nancy.  Off on my own I went.

My boss was older and quite conservative, most often described as a "gentleman".  His idea of a good time was walking back to The Plaza (times were great back then!) from the Coliseum along Central Park and stopping for ice cream at Rumplemeyer's.  We were back at the hotel by 6:00 p.m.  Mercifully, there was a party that I attended and met some customers.  Many were young guys, just a year or two older than me but to me, they seemed outrageously wild.  I was imagining drugs and orgies and God-knows-what in the Big City.  So when they invited me out to another club with them after the party, I declined and was back in the hotel by 10.

The second day I ran into these guys again, and again they told me where they would all be at around 10:00 that evening.  My other best invitation was to have a drink and watch TV with the 60+ year old sales woman co-worker (I don't think so).  So I imagined that it wouldn't be SO bad to meet those guys if I took a cab there and if it was awful, would jump in a cab to come home.  As it turns out, one of my better decisions.

These guys were huge drinkers, made multiple trips to the bathroom (I thought only girls went to the bathroom in groups), were never interested in food, and were mad fun.  By the second trade show, I had the system down.  As the lightweight drinker, I was the one most lucid during the evening and was therefore appointed Treasurer. I collected $20 from everyone; I paid the bar bill and when the money was gone, collected $20 more.  In the interest of full disclosure, I threw my $20's in as well - rarely drank more than 2 drinks in an evening, but I always had cab fare home!  There were usually only one or two other women around back then and we eventually learned to steer the group toward bars that at least had some popcorn or peanuts so we got something to eat.  (Skip ahead 30+ years later when few of us are still in the industry:  some have quit drinking, some have not but almost all are huge foodies now.  Life isn't always fair.)

They eventually decided on a name for the group:  PIMP  (Premium Incentive Marketing Professionals) - I think we had hats!  This group shared quite a lot of experiences over almost 20 years including many parties at famous NY and Chicago hotels, bars and landmarks, a sailboat trip around San Francisco Bay, carriage rides, celebrity sightings, foot races in the streets of NY and more than one incident involving "dropped trou". 

So guys, if you're reading this, know that I am forever grateful for the invitation at that first show and my memories as Treasurer of PIMP are some of my best.  Thank you!

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