Diane Hardgrove (in green), Director of the Mrs. New York America Pageant surrounded by her contestants. Photo: Mrs. New York America
Pageant directors are not just the people in charge, but they are the backbone of the entire pageant system. They literally run the show. If there is no director, there is no pageant. Directors are very special individuals as they have to be able to master the logistics of running a pageant and operate the business of the pageant all year long. There are three main groups of people that directors interact with and depend on to create a successful pageant organization: pageant contestants, pageant judges and titleholders. These groups of people and the final awards ceremony seem to be the most challenging in terms of requiring specific protocols and procedures that are outside the norm. (Read: Should Directors be Allowed to Coach Their Contestants?)
In fact, if you are a pageant director, please make sure that you utilize our Pageant Directory. It is a free service that we provide where you can create your own profile along with your pageant’s information so that potential contestants can locate you easily. We’re gearing up for pageant season, so make sure that your information is included! Pageant Planet is a resource for everyone involved in pageantry, not just contestants, so we want to be sure to provide the hard-working directors among our readers with the knowledge and support that they need to live out their dreams, too. There are so many facets of facilitating a pageant and so many areas that we could cover, but we’re going to focus mainly on what directors need to know about pageant etiquette.
Pageant contestant etiquette
In addition to having exemplary organizational abilities, a director must also be blessed with outstanding communication skills and be able to interact with and motivate people because there is so much more to do when the pageant is over. Throughout the year, a director must facilitate the recruiting of contestants and create a positive and rewarding experience for those contestants prior to the pageant. Pageants are really built on all the things that happen leading up to the pageant, not the pageant itself.
All contestants know that when the pageant is over, only one will go home with the crown, so if a director wants a strong organization that continues to grow after the stage lights dim, it’s imperative to invest in the lives of their contestants all year long. This is where that sisterhood develops that so many girls cherish in pageantry. When contestants enjoy themselves and experience a lot of social interaction with each other, they begin to feel like they are part of something special, and they bond not just with each other but with the pageant system. Directors can do a lot to solidify their brand by providing informational workshops, volunteer opportunities and special events that their contestants can participate in. (Read: 10 Things Your Pageant Director Wants to Say to You But Never Will)
Another thing that a good director does is provide every contestant with all the information that they need to have a fulfilling pageant experience. Nothing ruins a pageant faster than confusing or inconsistent information that makes the contestants feel unprepared or unsure of what is going to happen or what is expected of them. Have all the pageant details documented either online or in a booklet that the contestants can refer to prior to and throughout the pageant. The best directors also prepare their contestants with clear expectations about paperwork and deadlines as well as any details regarding the competition itself, such as specific rules about wardrobe, pageant protocol and the way the scoring system works. Competing in a pageant is stressful, so anything that a director can do to lessen the stress is very much appreciated. If the contestant is at or below the Teen level, it is likely you will be working closely with her parents before the pageant to get all of the paperwork and competition details squared away. Here are the etiquette rules that every parent should follow. (Read: Etiquette Guidelines for Every Pageant Parent to Follow)
A well-known and respected pageant director in the industry is Pamela Curnel, the director for the Mrs. Washington America pageant, which is the state preliminary to the Mrs. America national competition. She is a veteran of pageant competition, starting in her teens, holding a state title when she was crowned Mrs. Washington 1993, and then adding the position of director for Mrs. Washington for the past 26 years. She is a master of organization and communication, and not only creates an incredibly thorough pageant guide for her contestants every season, but in addition to all the social events and volunteer opportunities, she offers a minimum of four informational workshops throughout the year, covering topics such as volunteering, interviewing, branding, walking and stage performance. Curnel stresses the importance of clear communication and she insists on taking phone calls and text messages at any time of day to ensure all questions or concerns are taken care of immediately.
“It is imperative that a director provides her contestants with all important deadlines well in advance along with any detailed information that is required of them," Curnel said. "All directors are constantly dealing with behind-the-scenes issues and, therefore, have their own deadlines that they must adhere to, such as sending in the pageant’s program book to the printers. Those internal deadlines are not negotiable, and program book ads, for example, cannot come in late. There is nothing more frustrating for a director than receiving necessary information from a contestant after a deadline. Things like that can create huge problems.” If you are competing in a pageant, make sure that you know these etiquette rules that a contestant should follow. (Read: Etiquette Tips That No One Tells You as a Pageant Contestant)
A thoughtful and proactive director will build a solid pageant system that contestants will brag about being a part of. Word-of-mouth is probably the most powerful way to attract new participants to the organization each year. (Read: 5 Tips for Directors to Expand Your Pageant System)
Pamela Curnel, Director of the Mrs. Washington America Pageant. Photo: Pam Curnel Facebook
Pageant judge etiquette
The etiquette regarding pageant judges is unique to pageantry and is pretty standard in the industry. Of course, every director has the right to arrange certain things the way that they believe will be best for their pageant, but most systems have established regulations for the judges for good reasons. These rules protect the integrity of not only the judges and their jobs, but they also protect the director, the pageant organization and the entire brand. First and foremost, it is important to remember that judges are providing the director a tremendous service, not to mention making a personal sacrifice so that they can do the job. They are leaving their homes, families, work and other responsibilities in order to travel to your pageant for an entire weekend to help you find the perfect titleholder.
Therefore, a judge should be thought of as a guest and should have no expenses whatsoever, such as hotel, meals, baggage, parking and so on. These invaluable individuals are going to decide the fate of one very special person who is going to become your greatest asset. Make sure that they have everything that they could possibly need in order to do their job successfully. (Read: 10 Secrets to Winning Your Pageant)
One of the biggest tools that a judge needs is the contestant biography and any other information that is part of their judge’s packet. Ideally, a judge should have the girls' paperwork weeks before they even show up at the pageant, but some pageants give them the paperwork when they arrive, such as the night before the final event.
Curnel sets the bar high in this regard. “I make it a point to get the judges all of the contestants' paperwork at least two weeks in advance, especially if there are 25 or more contestants," Curnel said. "In order to do their job well, the judges need adequate time to formulate intelligent questions and to get to know every single one of the contestants; their background, their platform and why they want to be the next titleholder. They get a few minutes with each girl in interview, and I want to ensure that they come prepared.
It helps the judges to make informed decisions and it helps the contestants have a profitable and positive interview experience.” Furthermore, judges must be consistent in everything that they do so that they treat each girl the same way. There can be no suspicions of favoritism and there should be a system for escorting the judges from location to location so that they do not come into contact with contestants. Most directors assign a person to coordinate the judges and ensure that they are able to focus entirely on their jobs. (Read: Etiquette Rules that Every Pageant Judge Must Know)
Natasha Coleman, Director of American Beauties National Pageant and Miss American Beauties National 2017, Alena Walker. Photo: Alena Walker Instagram
Pageant titleholder etiquette
After the pageant, the director also has to be able to work with the titleholder to ensure that she has a successful year promoting the pageant system and serving in whatever way the director determines is best for the organization. Every pageant is different, and the burden is on the director to have clear expectations of titleholders and communicate them repeatedly and in writing. Curnel reiterates how much the communication between her and her queen affects the success of her pageant. "The titleholder should be in contact with the state director at all times," Curnel said. "This is a serious job and there are no excuses for not checking in on a regular basis and having a plan of action in place. Communication and staying in regular contact is extremely important especially between the director and a new titleholder. It sets the stage for a successful and positive partnership for the entire year.”
Typical items to discuss are things like public appearances, volunteer obligations, wardrobe and grooming, and contract requirements. These may seem tedious and minuscule details, but they can become major issues over the course of your queen’s reign if not dealt with up front. If a titleholder has been a queen in another organization, she may have preconceived ideas about what her responsibilities are and what you expect of her. Or, if she is new to pageantry or has never even been a titleholder, she will have no idea what she is expected to do, other than wearing her crown and sash and smiling for the camera. (Read: Pageant Question About Changing Pageants)
Serious problems occur when the director does not immediately meet with the new queen and go over the pageant’s expectations. Everything that the director wants should be put in writing and signed by the new queen. Do not assume that your new titleholder knows anything about what her new job is, so every detail should be discussed even if it seems redundant. Otherwise, you and your new queen may experience a very long and miserable year. If you expect your queen to commit to doing at least one public appearance per month, she must know and agree to that. If there are non-compete clauses or other similar contract requirements that can become legal issues if not complied with, it is the responsibility of the director to ensure that the new queen understands and agrees completely with those obligations. (Read: How to Book Your Own Appearances As A Titleholder)
There are also miscellaneous issues that every director has to decide how to handle, like how much to compensate for fuel and mileage when a titleholder has to travel to and from public appearances. If you have other rules or even preferences about behavior regarding things like alcohol consumption or social media conduct, for example, then you must discuss them in detail at the start of her reign. (Read: Should Titleholders Post Pictures With Alcohol on Social Media?)
Jackie Watson, Director of USA National Miss Pageant. Photo: Jackie Watson Facebook
Pageant awards ceremony etiquette
Most seasoned directors know that there are precise protocols and procedures that must be followed with regard to the final awards, but every so often, even on an international stage, someone will make a mistake. (Read: How to Have a Memorable Pageant Experience Even if You Don't Win the Crown)
The awards ceremony must be handled with extreme professionalism and care so that everything goes smoothly. For instance, a director should not give out multiple crowns unless there are multiple titles being presented. Any awards or sponsorships should be given at the pageant or the winner needs to be given a definitive date of when she can expect to receive them. (Read: Give and Receive: How to Approach Directors to Collect on Your Prize)
A director is held to the highest standards of integrity, and any unprofessional behavior related to prizes can destroy not only a pageant but a director’s career. Again, this is where communication about expectations is a priority and it is always a good idea to make sure that the protocol surrounding the receipt of titles, awards and prizes is clearly documented in writing and communicated to all contestants prior to the pageant.
Teri Brown-Walker, Director of The Miss Delaware, Miss Maryland and Miss District of Colombia United States Pageants. Photo: Teri Brown-Walker Facebook
Pageant directors do so much more than put on a production
Pageant directors are a unique breed. Anybody can be a director, but not just anybody can be a director and be good at it. It takes an uncompromising work ethic, supreme organizational skills, an upbeat and caring personality, and an unrelenting drive to grow and adapt and remain positive and professional at all times. Curnel adds that in her job, there is a balance of attempting to be on top of things but also mastering the art of obtaining grace under pressure. “Pageant directors must be able to go with the flow but be on their toes at all times," Curnel said. "If there is an unexpected crisis before, during or after the pageant, it has to be handled with the utmost professionalism, grace and poise.” Those individuals who persevere under pressure and strive to bring their pageant visions into reality are doing so much more than putting on a production. Pageant directors create an arena where girls and women can explore a world of possibilities. They provide an opportunity for females of all ages to grow and develop into the people that they ultimately want to be. (Read: 5 Strategies to Succeed as a State Pageant Director)
It is an extremely rewarding accomplishment to be able to empower women in such a fun and unusual way, and the best directors are enjoying the process of living out their dreams alongside the ladies that enroll in their pageants. If you are a pageant director, please make sure that you are included in our Directory.
Potential contestants are seeking out new pageants and new systems all of the time, and they need to be able to locate you! If you are interested in pageant coaching, check out the next article in this course that will teach you all of the etiquette rules for pageant coaches. (Read: Etiquette Rules That All Pageant Coaches Should Follow)
If you are considering starting a career as a pageant director, did you find this article helpful? If you have been a director for some time, can you think of anything we missed? Please leave us a comment. We’d love to hear what you have to say!
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