To attendees, tradeshow models are just the attractive people who hand out information, samples and swag at booths. However, to certain exhibiting companies, these models are supposed to represent an extension of their sales staff.
Models in the tradeshow industry started out as eye candy for companies that needed pretty women to draw a crowd. In 1939, “booth babes” were used at the New York World’s Fair to demonstrate a range of products, including one of the first air conditioners.
Since then, putting attractive women on the tradeshow floor has been a familiar practice. In the 1950s and 60s, it was common for car shows to pair new vehicles with a few pretty women in expensive dresses.
Although some clients are starting to shift practices toward hiring exhibit staff rather than ‘booth babes,’ certain shows still cater to particular demographics.
“If the tradeshow is medical, technical or more corporate, then they hire more of the business look,” said Sondra Irwin, owner of Preferred Promotional Models & Talent. “If it is a car, food or apparel show, then they will book the sexy type.”
Categorizing models in the industry is a common way to distinguish who will do well with the crowd at each tradeshow.
“Most of our clients, especially in the healthcare and technology sector, are looking for a professional extension to their sales and marketing team,” said Shelly Justice, owner of CMT Agency. “With that being said, if a target demographic is a 20-something-year-old male video gamer, then a ‘booth babe’ is probably the ideal solution to getting brand exposure.”
Shifting toward the more intelligent and well-educated individual is a positive change for the modeling industry. Attendees have become too familiar with the scantily clad women who do nothing but look hot and pose for photos on the show floor.
In fact, some attendees find this practice repulsive. Brian Rice, an author for Business2Community, recently wrote an article about how “booth babes” are slowly killing brand names one tradeshow at a time.
“When I walk by a ‘booth babe,’ my first thought is ‘this company must not have anything interesting to say or showcase if they need to resort to using barely dressed models to create buzz’,” wrote Rice in the article Booth Babes: Killing Your Brand One Tradeshow at a Time. “Assuming that the company does have something interesting to show, I have yet to meet a ‘booth babe’ that was able to articulate the brand message or purpose of the company they were hired to represent. This is by no means the fault of the ‘booth babe,’ but rather a common result of using a hired model that has no affinity towards your brand.”
This feeling of resentment is felt on both sides of the booth. Even the models get annoyed working at shows where they’re only seen as a good-looking object.
Currently, Booth Babe Confessions is one of the top stories on Gizmodo.com, a website generally known for all things tech-related. In the article, models confess to some of the practices that are common at tradeshows. This includes things like attendees slipping a model their hotel key, attempting poorly thought-out pick-up lines, and even touching or grabbing them inappropriately.
Some companies in the industry, such as Entertainment Arts (EA), have advocated this mentality to the point where it was the main purpose of a recent promotion. Needless to say, EA pulled the plug on the “Sin to Win” promotion and apologized to any upset participants.
The positive impact is that other exhibitors are starting to catch on to the negative stigma attached to ‘booth babes.’
“I dislike the term ‘booth babes’ as they really do not use that in the industry anymore,” said Justice. “That was what they used 20 years ago, and it seems only the ‘old timers’ in the industry still use that terminology.”
Nowadays, businesses are looking to hire models to not only be good looking, but to be an extension their sales staff and demonstrate their products effectively. These representatives are required to have a whole different and more elaborate set of qualities.
“Clients are not looking for ‘booth babes’ so much anymore,” said Irwin. “They want more educated, easily trained and engaging models."
Even the modeling agencies are increasing their standards for hiring talent.
“Our models must be able to represent companies and speak intelligently as well as retain information on the products or services they are representing,” said Stephanie Armstrong, account executive at Trade Show Models. “College degrees and specific sales or marketing experience are preferred.”
This new generation of tradeshow models is being held accountable for representing the client’s company. These people (men as well) are required to have more esteemed and useful credentials than just a pretty face and a hot body.
“We offer extensive training about our expectations, which are very high, and include knowing business etiquette,” said Calanit Atia, owner of A to Z Events. “For example, we tell them to show up 30 minutes prior, view the client’s website so they may be better educated about the product and services, and remind them to cover their mouths when they yawn.”
Although the change from ‘booth babe’ to exhibit staff has been slow, it is definitely still continuing. Modeling agencies understand the importance of having a professional and educated booth staff and are highlighting those qualities in every aspect of the industry.
“There are no do-overs in promotional work; no re-touching the mistakes,” said Armstrong. “So it’s important that the models understand exactly how we expect them to behave and what the client expects.”