The glitz and glamour of beauty pageants is deceptive because at their core, these spectacles are big-money business. As a matter of fact, pageants are based on a business model that was developed by a British businessman called Eric Morley, who created Miss World in 1951 as a commercial enterprise. As a wit remarked, ageing rock stars would come to use this and other international pageants to find “future ex-wives.” However,” what Morley had in mind was creating a global commercial enterprise – which Miss World would indeed become.
Miss World Organisation is owned by a British company called Miss World Limited and has been franchised in more than 100 countries, among them Botswana. Miss World has been franchised no differently from the way Toyota or Nandos have been. Miss World Limited owns and manages the annual Miss World Finals, which are the world’s biggest. International media houses buy exorbitantly-priced broadcasting rights to beam this spectacle into millions of homes across the globe. Additionally, a host of lucrative businesses operate within the beauty-pageant industry. These businesses want to gain mileage from their association with the pageant.
Decades ago, the Botswana Council of Women (BCW) bought the Miss World franchise. BCW is a non-profit-making organisation and what it has been doing over the years is retail the rights to host Miss Botswana to private sector entities. For the most part, these entities solicit sponsors from big companies in order that they can lay on a huge spectacle at a high-end Gaborone hotel. The finale is an important part of the spectacle because that is when Gaborone’s cologne, especially the Hennessy-and-hookah set, pay through the nose for the privilege of packing a hotel’s auditorium.
Cracks in this business model begin to show after the finale, when a winner has been crowned and has to prepare herself for the Miss World Finals in a First World city. A government source who is familiar with the inner workings of the pageant says that it is at this most critical stage that a lot of money is needed to set up an elaborate support structure for the winner. However, it is at this same stage that that same winner is all but financially orphaned, not least by those renting the rights to host Miss Botswana. The latter would have made returns on what investment they would have made in the finale and understandably, not be willing to spend any more of such returns to prepare the winner for the prohibitively expensive global finale.
“Miss World Organisation has a very long list of attire that contestants are required to wear at the Finals,” says the source, adding that the fabric used to make those the dresses is not available in Botswana and very expensive. “The queen needs a lavish wardrobe, support staff – coaches, chaperones – to attend to her on a full-time basis before and after the Miss World Finals. She also needs a well-furnished house and chauffeured car for the entire duration of her reign.”
The source adds that in some cases, winners don’t get prizes they were promised because either the organisers didn’t make enough money or simply want to swindle the winners.
At the Miss World Finals, Miss Botswana competes with peers who are generously sponsored in their own countries. “Sponsor” might itself be misleading because it suggests charitable giving and not commercial investment. The reality though is that companies generally invest in ventures that will give them returns on their investment. Next door, big companies line up to sponsor Miss South Africa and last year’s sponsors were marquee companies like American Swiss, Mercedes Benz, PWC and Woolworths. The South African government also sponsored the pageant through Brand South Africa and the City of Cape Town as the official hosting partner.
Part of the explanation for big companies rallying behind Miss South Africa has to do with who the licence holder is – Sun International.
Growth opportunity, which includes mergers, acquisitions and partnerships with other entities to help an enterprise grow, is an important component of any business model. Given how long it has held the Miss World franchise, BCW should by now have secured at least one marquee company as a sponsor. Such partnership would certainly help improve the efficiency of BCW’s business operations.
The latter point turns the spotlight on BCW itself, which appears to still be stuck in the century it was founded in – the 20th century. An online search shows that it has neither a website nor social media presence. Our source says that the Council is an extension of the ruling party, whose leadership has a very well-pronounced hereditary character which is expressed in Setswana as “ya rona le bana ba rona.” Some have observed that BCW leadership has a very strong hereditary character, with most of its leaders coming from centrally located Gaborone residential districts. The latter necessarily means that there is no infusion of fresh perspectives.
Making investment-related decisions in order to avoid costly losses is another very important component of an effective business model. There is no way in the world that fielding only three contestants, as happened in 2018, could have been an investment-related decision because pageant-goers would have been unwilling to patronise an event that had been denuded of grand spectacle they wanted to see. D-day is supposed to be a big pay night for the organisers but the 2018 edition of Miss Botswana was without any profit formula.
As critical a component in any business model is what an organisation wants people to think about its brand – what BCW wants people and companies to think about Miss Botswana in this case. Generally, scandals are not good for a brand and in some cases will drive sponsors away. You would need all your phalanges (fingers and toes) and somebody else’s to count the number of times that Miss Botswana has generated a scandal in the past decade. Image-conscious companies don’t want to be associated with scandals and that is certainly driving potential sponsors away.
In the latest episode of the never-ending Miss Botswana soapie, there have been issues about the current Miss Botswana, Palesa Molefe, wearing an evening gown that most here at home found underwhelming. It is likely the furore prompted the deep-pocketed to ensure that she acquired more acceptable attire when she returned to Puerto Rico after a suspicious pageant suspension that brought her back home.
There is a new thing called “wardrobe malfunction.” That is what Palesa says she suffered ahead of the finale, raising more questions than answers because she had a total of four gowns. Upon arrival back home last month, she told yet another story that didn’t dovetail with that of her handlers. Potential sponsors will remember this and reference it the next time anyone comes around with a begging bowl.
The biggest tragedy though is the government’s casual attitude towards an enterprise that it knows yields huge economic benefits. We are unaware of anyone measuring the PR value of Palesa’s assignment at Miss World but it would certainly run into the millions of pula. The government knows this, which is why the Botswana Tourism Organisation had her to a photoshoot at iconic landmarks around the country. If the Miss Botswana business model was refined, such value would go up exponentially.