Dilemma: Are ‘booth babes’ a honey of an idea?
My boss wants to hire models to get attendees to stop by our exhibit. But I think they could distract visitors from the products we’re presenting, and we’ll get more qualified leads if we spend the money updating our booth. Should I follow through on my boss’ suggestion or stand up for what I believe? Also, have any readers hired models, and if so, what happened? I’d really like to know.
— Lena, Exhibit Manager
Maybe it’s a matter of taste
Hiring booth babes is a hot topic in the exhibit and events arena. And our readers have a lot to say about this issue. Their viewpoints vary and, perhaps surprisingly, not along gender lines.
In a nutshell, they say:
- Find — and train — the right model.
- Voice your opinion.
- Forget it. It’s a bad idea.
Find — and train — the right model
Some readers have hired these models known as “booth babes,” and they’ve had success with them. But they warn that you can’t just look at a picture and say, “I’ll take that one”.
Terrie Holahan, manager of trade shows/events for AtriCure Inc., emphasizes the importance of training a model.
“I work with an agency to vet the right candidates for the job and develop a briefing document that’s distributed beforehand. This includes company history, contact information, goals for the show, qualifying questions for potential leads and product information. I also request that the model attend our training meetings to meet our staff and learn more about our products. By making this person a part of the team, you ensure that he or she won’t be a distraction but an ‘attraction' who will help prequalify and draw people to your exhibit.
“Sure, it takes a bit of development upfront, but I’ve found the payoff to be worth it. Remember, you can have the best-looking booth on the show floor, but if you don’t have someone to invite people in, it’s just a nice-looking structure. Good luck!”
An anonymous reader agrees training is essential.
“We hired many models until we found the perfect two. We trained them, and they learned to ask professional questions. It worked for us.”
Chuck Klein, principal at Chuck Klein Productions, believes the type of model you hire makes all the difference.
“Having worked in corporate events for over 20 years, I’ve seen how effective attractive women and men, both, can be in garnering traffic at a trade show. The key is casting the right look and personality to suit the client and the product. Overt ‘babes’ are usually a mistake. By this, I mean models with trashy, hyper-sexualized looks and behavior. It doesn’t create friends among the women attendees, and it really doesn’t further your business agenda with the males.
“However, classy, refined good looks coupled with a well-trained, smart, outgoing model, wearing a brand-supporting outfit or costume, can be a real magnet. Correctly used, a model attracts attention and frees up corporate staff to concentrate on their duties. Great show staff is win-win in my experience and has put many of my clients on the covers of more than one trade publication.”
An administrative assistant says the type of model you choose should match your company’s image.
“What type of company do you work for? If it manufactures baby diapers, models wouldn’t be a good fit. But if it makes cutting tools, models (with training to talk about products) might be a big plus, since women speaking about ‘manly’ products could draw a crowd (both men and women). Models draw attention, but the lasting impression should be on your product.”
Stephen Patterson, senior marketing consultant for JSP Creative Marketing, is OK with hiring booth babes — but only after careful consideration.
“Lena, welcome to the age-old problem of ‘to babe or not to babe.’ In my experience, the final decision is dependent on many factors: product, target audience, company image, gender and look of the models, intelligence and training of the models, past ROI in the same situation, and the goal you must accomplish.
“Attractive models can attract sidewalk viewers. However, do they help engage in dialogue for sales and product information? Think about the bottom line, and remember your boss is your boss, and he’s ultimately responsible for trade show results.”
Voice your opinion
A couple of readers suggest you speak with your boss to determine exactly what he hopes to accomplish with these models — and then try to find a better way to reach his goals.
Monica Moore, senior marketing manager for Intermap Technologies, has seen the downside of using models and offers a tactful way for you to steer your boss in a different direction.
“Folks go to shows to get information, find solutions to problems and talk/meet with salespeople. And I’ve seen instances where using ‘booth babes’ backfired, as some men and women find it offensive and insulting to their intelligence.
“Ask your boss what he hopes to accomplish with this approach. Does he want loads of leads, many of which may be more interested in your model than in your product or service, or potentially qualified leads? Once you know his goals/ideas, you can propose what you believe is a better use of resources (use facts from industry resources). A well-thought-out plan is most certain to win.”
An anonymous reader states booth babes can work — in small doses — but still suggests you talk with your boss about hiring them.
“I was a part of a presentation with so-called booth babes, a female and male dancer/model types. They were professional in manner and costume, which was effective. Plus, they resided in the booth only for photo ops and primarily walked the show in a ‘Pied Piper’ scenario. But full-time booth babes are a distraction from the products on display. Tell your boss to get into the next century (this idea is so Auto Show!).”
Forget it — it’s a bad idea.
Other readers are more definite in their viewpoints that models don’t produce the kind of results companies are looking for.
Cindy Sargent, manager of creative services and event marketing at Finning, explains why she’s anti-booth babe.
“My company hasn’t hired a booth babe, but I’ve observed others using this strategy on the trade show floor. Yes, these exhibits did see a ton of traffic. But when I polled our employees after the show, none of our sales reps could remember the name of the company that had hired the babes. Enough said, in my book!”
Justin Gardner, inside sales associate with INNCOM, says booth babes attract a quantity of visitors, but not necessarily the quality you seek.
“Lena, stick to your guns. Models don’t draw the quality of the crowd you’re trying to reach. You may find yourself with a large quantity of visitors, but how much time will be wasted trying to qualify them during and after the show?
“At one show where I exhibited, a booth across the way had hired a model. No one who left this booth could explain a single product the company had to offer. If you hire a model, you’ll just waste money and cause yourself headaches.”
Dawn M. Studniarz, marketing and events manager for Formtek Group Inc., also believes models bring in too many visitors you don’t really want to see.
“I work in a male-dominated industry and have requests every season for booth babes, but I refuse to accept this type of ‘selling’ in our booth. In my opinion, we’re not selling sex, and although the babes may bring more traffic and attention to your booth, they won’t bring the qualified leads you’re looking for. You invest a lot of money in a show, so spend your money wisely, attract the qualified leads you want to receive and achieve your ROI.”
Susan Long-Molnar, president of Managing Communications Consulting, sees models as a waste of money — and opportunity.
“Would you send a hired model out to call on a prospective client? No. So, why would you waste an opportunity to reach hundreds of people with your key messages at a trade show you’ve probably paid a few thousand dollars to participate in? I might hire a booth babe to get people to sign up for a drawing, but everyone else in the booth would be direct representatives of the company, trained in the specific sales techniques required for this media and easily identifiable with the brand.”
Jim Savage, owner of Savage Marketing Co., thinks booth babes are superfluous.
“I may be biased because I train booth staffers, but if the staff is trained to recognize body language and how to engage the prospect, you won’t need any booth babes to get people in your booth. The challenge is to know which questions attendees will respond to — and then how to disengage to continue to properly work the show.”
An anonymous reader is adamantly anti-booth babe and offers two suggestions to keep your booth “all business.”
“I experienced this same issue a few years ago. You have two choices: 1) Do as your boss requests, but make sure the agency you use adheres to your criteria of professional appearance and standards, or 2.) Report to HR that this idea makes you uncomfortable. Your company won’t want to face a possible sexual harassment lawsuit. Luckily for me, other senior executives backed me and, after using booth babes for two shows, nixed it.”
Lena, models have been used to show off new products for decades. But whether they belong in the booth — or provide verifiable value — is up for debate. If you can live with your boss’s request, hire — and train — wisely. Conversely, if you just can’t abide the idea of a booth babe, see if you can guide your boss down another road, or explain why you think hiring models is a bad idea and stand your ground. Just don’t make your stance personal, and keep your focus on making your exhibit a success.