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Understanding the modeling industry

For tradeshow models, having a regular, nine-to-five day job is boring. Typically, these women are working at a new tradeshow every week, where they have to learn about a new company and new product, and present it to new attendees and customers.

NABNonetheless, so much about the modeling industry is still misunderstood. Sure, models are hired based mostly on looks. After all, a human’s most cognizant sense is their sight. But for the models, the job is much more than presenting a pretty face on the show floor.

There are a few different ways a model can be booked for a tradeshow. She can either go directly to an exhibitor, who hires her as an independent contractor. Or she can be booked through an event staffing agency like A to Z Events, CMT Agency or Judy Venn and Associates.

“The agency is the go-to person,” said Tracy Housewright, who has been modeling for 10 years and is currently represented by Judy Venn. “They’re representing you and protecting your rights.”

Most agencies have an internal set of standard guidelines for their models. This includes everything from not chewing gum or playing on cell phones during work, to keeping hair, makeup and nails in tip-top shape.

When the model sits down with the client, however, she is given another separate set of expectations and guidelines. Oftentimes, these instructions include a sales aspect. Whether the models have the authorization to close a sale is up to the client, but these girls are asked to quickly learn about a product and then turn around and sell it on the show floor the next day.

“Each client is different,” said Jennifer Speelman, model for several years and currently represented by Judy Venn. “Some will want their hostess to talk to every potential customer or lead that comes by the booth. Whereas other clients only have certain target customers in mind.”

While some clients will ask their hired talent to learn about the company, sell a product and become a brand ambassador, there are other clients who hire models to do the bare minimum and work the show floor just as an eye-catcher for the company.

At shows like Nightclub and Bar, as well as various video game or electronic conventions, provocatively dressed models can be seen all over the convention floor, handing out samples or passing out flyers. Although these girls are often referred to as “booth babes,” theEXHIBITOR2012 models don’t think of themselves or each other that way. 

“When people call me a ‘booth babe,’ I laugh it off,” said Speelman. “Besides, they’re quickly corrected in their thinking when I begin to give them an in depth explanation or demonstration of a particular product.”

And whether the model is working as a sales associate or working to catch attendee’s attention, she’s still doing important work for her client. She’s still expected to uphold and meet expectations, and she’s still an integral part of the tradeshow’s success.

“Even when you’re just standing there, the exhibitor is still getting new people coming to the booth that they never would have had,” said Valerie Dunwoody, who is currently represented by A to Z Events. “Yes, we’re there to get their attention, but also to help them understand further about the company.”

For some models, using the term “booth babe” is primitive and medieval. This regression only adds to the misunderstood aspects of the modeling industry.

“I think ‘booth babe’ is used because people don’t understand,” said Dunwoody. “I’ve never been hired as a ‘booth babe’ because it’s not a thing. When attendees see a girl in a booth, they just don’t know what to call her.”

As the industry begins to move away from the “booth babe” stigma, models have started noticing a decrease in the number of girls being hired to dress down and do the bare minimum. More often, clients are hiring girls with sales experience who can demonstrate products and close sales.

“Clients are going for a different look now,” said Housewright. “I definitely think there’s a decrease, and I’ve heard that from a few different agencies.”

But even though these girls are seeing a decrease in the number of “booth babes” being hired, they also know that some clients will always want an attractive and scantily clad girl to represent the company.

“As an attendee, when you walk by a booth and see a ‘booth babe,’ it might attract a second look, but are you going to look at the company the same way and still do business with them?” said Housewright. “Probably not. It might draw a little more disrespect than anything.”

In fact, models themselves are often the recipient of that contempt.

“What’s funny is that the backlash from it usually goes to the girl who’s standing there,” said Dunwoody. “It’s unfortunate because she’s there being an advocate for the company. Yes, she decided to do it, but it’s the company that’s being represented here, not the girl.”

Even though the modeling industry is seen as slightly taboo, these girls are given the opportunity and experience to learn about and demonstrate many kinds of products and work with dozens of different companies.

“This is the only job I’ve done where I’ve been able to learn almost every different kind of career and learn the ins and out and network with so many people,” said Dunwoody. “I don’t think that’s been looked at enough in the modeling industry.”

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