Thoughts on Booth Babes
Fair warning – there are a couple of really crass statements here. They are made deliberately. Booth babes are kind of a crass topic of conversation, even when you’re speaking against the practice.
Presented here for your consideration, a thought or two about companies using booth babes from a middle-aged, straight guy (ie, the supposed target audience for booth babes) from a slightly different angle.
Let’s start with what I mean by booth babes. I’m not talking about making sure to bring along the members of your technical staff who happen to be attractive and female. I’m not talking about bringing along members of your sales and marketing team who can talk intelligently about your offering on some levels and then find the right technical person to answer the deeper questions, even if these folks happen to be attractive and female. I’m not even strongly against hiring local people to do non-technical grunt work (keeping the marketing slicks stocked, scanning badges and handing out swag) while dressed in a similar manner to your staff members working the booth, and making selection decisions based at least partly on the decorative value they bring, in order to free up your (cluefull) staffers to interact with attendees about your offering and do higher value work. Bluntly, I’m talking about hiring women to attract attention by being sex objects.
At every big conference that comes along someone gets named and shamed for half naked models decorating booth space like some over-sized collection of tacky hood ornaments. The costumes are out of the Fredrick’s of Hollywood Halloween catalog – Sexy Nurse, Sexy Cop, Sexy Whatever – but they seem to be there only for drawing the (non-technical) attention of the disproportionately male audience these shows bring.
Those of you who know me offline know that I’m not an enterprise guy – I’m a small shop, small biz technologist. My former vertical – convenience stores and gas stations – doesn’t send folks to BH/DC, RSA or Interop. Tech is often exhibited at regional events alongside the products that vendors want to get onto the shelves at your local corner CStore. Coffee services, gas pumps, new candy offerings and point of sale systems on one big floor.
At the dawn of the energy drink era I went to one of the regional events. There were probably ten booths of energy drinks on an exhibition floor of under 150 booths. They all had a theme based on the brand identity they were trying to build around their horrifically bad-tasting offerings looking for a piece of the market the gang at Red Bull had carved out. And all the new entrants had at-least-half-naked decorative liveware dressed to fit the brand identity theme – RockStar had groupies, Monster had women dressed to make Elvira look demure. (Red Bull – who was going to get attention no matter what they did – had some attractive members of their sales and marketing staff on hand dressed like professionals who worked at an energy drink company and wanted you to buy some. Telling, that.)
Elsewhere on that same show floor was a guy named Eric who was selling point of sale hardware that supported a number of the POS software packages in use at the time. He had a decent offering – for the right company his offering was downright compelling. His booth was essentially three power point slides on banners behind him as the backdrop and a table full of hardware out front with the cases open to display the shiney. Eric – though a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for his employers offering – is not eye candy. He had some decent swag (a stainless steel travel mug with his companies logo and contact info on one side and info on awards his company had won with their offering on the other – I still have one of those mugs a decade later) some demo gear, and his personality.
He generated more leads than Coke’s energy drink offerings did.
I think back to that show each time the tech show booth babe issue rears its ugly head.
It costs a bunch of money to exhibit at these shows. I get that. You’ve got to get people to notice you on a crowded expo floor to get some return on that investment, whether that return is new sales or just deepening your relationship with existing customers who expect you to be available at these shows. You don’t get that without generating traffic through your booth.
If you feel that the only way you can attract attention is to go out and hire a big ole bag of titties, you tell me that you have no faith whatsoever in the strength of your offering.
If you don’t believe, why should I?
If you *do* have organizational faith in your offering but you’re hiring a brace of breasts to do your attention getting anyway, please work to get your marketing folks replaced with competent people who are living in the present day.
The energy drink gang didn’t really have a lot of differentiation outside of the packaging and marketing efforts. It was roughly the same crap, it tasted like some mutant cross between asses and ashtrays, and was often folks on the same hallway competing against each other – IIRC, Coca-Cola had four separate offerings at the show I’m thinking of, Pepsi had more than one as well. Many of the people on the show floor were already compelled to offer some mix of these products as part of their merchandizing agreement with the parent companies of the energy drink groups.
Eric had something real to offer, and could intelligently discuss it to help you determine if it was a good fit for your needs. Coke had some new version of the same old, same old – this time with extra stimulants, just like everyone else who sold fizzy, flavored, sugar (and artificially sweetened too!) water packaged for individual sale. People stopped to talk to Eric, Coke needed to get people to slow down long enough that Coke employees could talk at them.
The tl;dr: If you stoop to the worst sort of booth babe at the front of your booth, I’ll think you have nothing real to offer behind them either. That’s the business message I receive when your initial attempt to communicate involves marketing to my little head.