Wednesday, April 17, 2013

So You Want to be a Trade Show Model? (Part I)

Part I:  Getting In…

So you want to be a Trade Show Model, do you?

Are you sure?

Many of my female friends have been asking what I do and how to cross over from the Promo/Brand Ambassador side of the Events Industry and into the Wonderful World of Trade Shows.

They think this job is all about standing in a booth, looking pretty and scanning badges.   Many think that making $300/day is way over what we should be getting paid and that anyone can do it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This job is not all about looking cute and giggling, though that does help.  This job is WORK, and hard work at that.  And after some shows I do, $300/day doesn't even begin to cover what we go through on the Show Floor.

So, how do you start?

1.  Resume

Landing that first job is like a Catch-22.  You have to have a resume to get the good jobs, but how do you get the resume without getting the jobs?  Simple.  Invest.

You have all seen my blogs about not working for less than you are worth.  I still stand by my thoughts on this.  You have to start at the bottom in the Trade Show Industry, just like any other career--unless you have someone willing to put her reputation on the line and refer you in, which many established TS Models won't do.  Staffing agencies like CSS and a slew of others regularly staff Conventions, especially the big ones in San Francisco and Las Vegas.  While the pay is low—generally $11/hr, it’s a great place to start.  The job is easy:  Stand in one place, hold a sign, smile, and direct traffic.  You won’t be on the Trade Show Floor itself, but it still technically counts as working a Convention.  The hours are long, so in the end you can clear several hundred dollars and you get to put a big name on your resume.  This also usually gets you a badge onto the Trade Show Floor so you can see if you really want to enter this World.  Do it.  Look.  Listen.  Observe.  Take notes.   Hang out with us after the show closes and hear us “Empty our Laundry Baskets…”  And then decide if you really want to make the leap.

Work a few Conventions and you start building some big name shows on your resume.  Work hard, and eventually, the bigger agencies will take notice.

If you want to start right away on the Show Floor, again, you are going to have to take a bit of a pay cut.  I started at the Winter Fancy Food Show several years ago making $20/hr and so can you.  Work a few Expos, Gift Fairs and Car Shows and you can get even more experience on your resume quickly.  A few agencies will staff Trade Shows for $17-$20/hr, but you are really going to piss off the experienced TS Models if you agree to work those rates.  Don’t.  You are worth more.  Once you get your feet wet and have proven that you CAN move up the ladder, then do so and don’t look back.

Once you build a resume, keep it simple.  One page.  Everyone knows the responsibilities of a Crowd Gatherer, Product Specialist, etc. so don’t waste room writing the description.  Just list the show, position, and Client.  KISS principle here.

2.  Pictures

Invest in a good head shot and full length, business style.  Smile, look pretty (or handsome) and keep the picture simple.  No one wants to see anything high-fashion with crazy hair, purple eye shadow, or that model pout that is popular.  If you are going to be hired to smile and get people in the booth, then present yourself to your prospective clients in that manner. 

Absolutely NO cheesecake, nude, implied nude or overly sexy shots!!  EVER!!  Unless you are applying to be a bikini model at a car show, then don’t send bikini pics!  True, you may have a rockin' body, but there are many conservative clients out there, especially in the tech and medical field, and they all have stereotypes about what “Booth Babes” are like.  Don’t present yourself as one.

Some agencies ask for a candid shot.  This does not mean you and your four closest promo friends in a picture handing out soda samples.  This means you posed by your booth with a warm and inviting smile on your face.  It would really suck if you sent a candid picture in with a whole bunch of people, and the Client hired your friend, wouldn't it?

3.  Wardrobe

You have a standard wardrobe for Trade Shows just like Promos.  Black pencil skirt with matching blazer.  White blouses.  Black dress pants.  And the most important wardrobe piece—comfortable shoes!!!  I’m NOT kidding!!  Your feet will ache from Day One, and there is no relief in sight, even on your lunch or break.  Bring a pair of black flats to change into for lunch, breaks, to and from work.  I buy my Trade Show Shoes ½ size bigger than I wear and stuff them full of shoe pads.  If your feet hurt, it will show in your face, and Attendees can smell a miserable Trade Show Model an aisle away.

Always have a manicure.  You are going to be shaking hands, scanning badges and touching iPads.  Your hands are your business.  Conservative polish or French Manicure only.  Your nail length should be just over the tips of your fingers, not glamorous!!  If you break a nail at work, put a band-aid on it, don’t just leave one naked little finger sitting there all stubbly while the others are lovely.  Learn to be ambidextrous and use the other hand until you can get to Walgreens and get a spare press-on or get to the salon.

Some companies will supply the Gawd-awful polo shirt.  Be prepared to tuck it in, and if it’s a man’s shirt and you are small, it’s going to be a challenge to cram all that material into your pants or skirt and not look four months pregnant.  I always wear pantyhose, tights, or some sort of spanx to not only give my legs and butt some support, but to tuck all the extra shirt-length in and compress it against my body so I can still try to look slim.

If you are allowed to wear your own outfit, make sure to coordinate your clothes with the colors of the booth.  Don’t show up wearing the competitor’s colors!  Bad move!

And for god’s sake—dye your roots!!  Three inches of black hair underneath platinum blonde ends just looks trashy.

4.  Market, market, market!

Apply for EVERYTHING!!  Be prepared to travel and not have your expenses covered.  Crowd Gatherers and Booth Hostesses are a dime a dozen for most Clients, and only some of the best will have their expenses covered.

You might have to take a “wash” on your first show or two just to get the Client’s name on your resume.  By wash, I mean make no money after expenses (which you write off of your income on your taxes).  Plan a vacation around it.  Have you always wanted to visit Chicago?  Well then book three-day show there, stay for five and know that you just got a huge show for a Fortune 100 Client on your resume.  That matters.  I took a few big hits in the beginning, and because I was willing to travel on my own, work my butt off, and prove myself to my Clients, some of my travel is now covered and my calendar is usually full months out.

Many people will try to make the transition into this world and fail.  It definitely is not for everyone.  The hours are long and grueling, the Clients can be unappreciative, and the Sales Staff can be annoying, demoralizing, and downright rude.  It happens. 

However, if you are able to get your foot in the door, working as a Trade Show Model can be one of the most rewarding and exciting careers anyone can have.  I feed off of the energy of the show and love the diversity of the Clients and the Product.  I know some of my Clients personally, and they are some of the warmest and caring people I have ever met.  And you just can’t beat setting your own hours and travel plans.

I can’t imagine working in any other field.

Life is Good.  Especially when you have found your calling.  


  1. This is an exceptional Primer on what it takes to do a VERY difficult job. This kind of work is not for everyone, but heeding this advice and putting it into practice can make you one of the best in the field.

    Required Reading ....

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