I just finished Presenting at DAC for one of my favorite Clients. Great show, well attended, my booth was packed, and my Client was thrilled.
As someone who is used to the usual Trade Show routine and sights—iPad giveaways, boring PowerPoint Presentations, Attendees stuffing their bags full of useless swag—one thing was noticeably absent…
Where were the Booth Babes?
It never fails that one attends any Trade Show without seeing groups of women dressed—by their CLIENT—in an outfit that I would never, ever, wear in public unless I was being handsomely paid. Some Clients still think that to get the most number of people in their booth, they have to have women show as much skin as possible. OK, sex sells. They are right…somewhat.
As the show prepared to open, I watched the Usual Suspects—women I work shows with regularly—take their positions dressed in a company polo and black slacks, or a business suit, or business casual clothes in the Client’s colors. No skin showing? Really? No micro-mini tank dress wearing woman in 7” stilettos teetering down the aisle with her butt hanging out of her dress and her breasts bursting out of the front? Nowhere. Hmmm… Could I be working in a Booth Babe-Free Zone?
And then there she was…
In true Booth Babe style, a pretty young lady stepped into the front of her booth, dressed in a halter top and “skirt” that was animal print fabric and tied together to give her a Cavewoman appearance.
The Token Booth Babe.
The show started and I didn’t get a chance to see what kind of crowd was gathering around her booth, as mine was constantly packed with Attendees and Speakers, and all I was wearing was a Black Power Suit and green blouse. Hmmm….
As the day progressed, many Attendees made comments about the BB, asking if I saw her, what did I think, etc. They made jokes about her outfit and commented that she, unlike me, was obviously not a real part of the company, that she was hired just for this show.
Really? I was hired just for this show. And yet, everyone thinks I’m part of the company. Hmmm…
I was in the ladies’ room on the second day when the young BB came in to fix her costume and I struck up a conversation with her. She was exhausted and frowning, and we talked for about 10 minutes about various Trade Shows we have worked, favorite Clients, etc., and her current gig as a Cavewoman.
She was absolutely mortified about her outfit. Apparently, she was hired by her Agency to do the usual gig—smile, greet Attendees, scan badges. It wasn’t until the evening before the show that she found out that she was wearing the costume. Since she had already signed the contract and it was less than 24 hours to the show open, she couldn’t refuse without damaging her reputation. So she did what most of us do and showed up with a smile on her face and did her job.
One particular thing that she said really stood out:
I am being treated so poorly by the Attendees. I approach them and try to pitch the product and they say to me, “Oh, honey, you are too pretty to be an Engineer, what would you be able to tell me about the product dressed like THAT. Where’s your boss? I have some questions that he can answer.”
She continued to vent to me that she is in her last semester of college, graduating with Honors from a 4-year University. She works part time as a Trade Show Model to pay her tuition and get some experience within her field of study. She was mortified that she not only was wearing this cheap costume, but that she was the ONLY woman at the show dressed inappropriately.
I gave her a hug and told her that it was only another day and to just think of the paycheck and of graduation on the horizon.
The rest of the show, many Attendees and Exhibitors continued to make snarky remarks about her. I reminded each of them that she is a student putting herself through college and that the CLIENT dressed her like that, it was not her choice. I also suggested that they go over to the booth and voice their opinion to the company employees themselves that the choice of clothing for their Trade Show Support Staff was inappropriate. And they did!!
Ironically, my Client sits on the Board of Directors for DAC. It seems that when this woman arrived at her booth, it caused an even bigger stir than we had heard. The company was strongly reprimanded for their choice of wardrobe for their Support Staff, and was almost kicked out of the show. It took some serious negotiating on their part to not be thrown out, and they now have it in their contract to NOT provide attire like this for next year’s show.
And there you have it. No Booth Babes at DAC next year.
Is this a good thing? Are we women finally getting some respect for what we do week after week in the Trade Show Industry?
Maybe…depends who you are asking and what kind of Trade Show it is.
Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no problem with young women making money by dressing in a costume and parading around a Client’s booth—when it is an appropriate show to do so. NACS is a show that is known for having more skin showing than a Vegas nightclub. The Gaming Conventions have women dressed up as characters from the latest video games. No problem here! Thigh-high boots and glitter to sell RockStar Energy Drinks at a consumer retail show? Sure. Make that money, girl!
I have even been known to dress up in a Cigarette Girl costume and hand out samples at a show or two, and had a great time doing it. But certainly not at a Tech Show for a Power Client.
As we are learning, there are certain shows where this type of marketing is just not welcomed, and severely frowned upon. The Technology Industry is very conservative, and it just isn’t necessary to have a girl in a bikini trying to sell you the latest in Big Data Storage. Think of all the attention the booth would get with that combination, and all the inappropriate jokes that can be made. Yet, the Big Names in the Tech Industry simply won’t take that kind of approach to their Trade Show Marketing. You aren’t going to see Power Clients such as EMC, HP, Cisco, Intel and Brocade pushing a sexy agenda. They just don’t need to.
There is a time and place for everything, and for every type of marketing. I’m happy to see women making money on the Trade Show Floor in all types of environments. And I am particularly thrilled that women are beginning to be taken seriously for what we are: Presenters, Lead Generators, Product Specialists, and Trade Show Support Staff.
Now if we can just do something about that Size XL men’s polo shirt I have to wear next week… Sigh…
Life is Good. Life is better when your Industry evolves.