Little is more off-putting than being hit on by a married man, yet as I helped adjust for a potential customer the newly designed earphones—guaranteed not to fall out while providing a superior sound experience—he leaned in and whispered, “You smell nice.” My paid response was to smile sweetly and squeak “Thank you!” in an overly excited voice. It’s simply part of the job as a brand representative (aka booth babe).
With the excitement of the new products from the annual CES in Las Vegas comes the perennial debate over booth babes. Is the role truly degrading to the women working the booths? What about the women attending the show? Do booth babes really help drive quality foot traffic? Or simply awkward gawkers and sex-crazed bloggers who publish annual galleries of the booth babes?
Throughout college, I held many part-time jobs, but few were as lucrative and easy as a brand representative at conferences and trade shows. These gigs paid a good hourly rate ($25-$50 per hour) and were not nearly as demeaning as other high-paid, low-barrier jobs such as shot girl or go-go dancer. At trade shows, generally the bastards weren’t that drunk.
What defines a particular trade show experience is not necessarily the politeness or vulgarity of the trade show attendees, but rather the company’s expectations of the brand representative. If the hiring company simply expects eye candy, it leaves the “booth babe” with little to cultivate potential customers besides looking pretty and small talk. We’re left objectified at the same level as the other booth props and displays.
However, if the company expects these women to be additional marketing representatives and provides adequate training and education on the product(s) and company represented, it becomes a more empowering experience. It allows us to have a voice to educate and engage potential customers.
Coming into any given brand representative gig, it is usually evident what type of experience to expect based on the job description and application process. If a job posting requests three full-body photos, it’s clearly a booth babe gig. However, if a description expects previous sales experience or the ability to learn quickly and requires some training (even a 30-minute crash course helps), it’s likely to be a genuine brand representative experience. A rep can be sexy by being smart and knowledgeable about a product.
My brand representative experiences exposed me to industries I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. For example, I once represented a cybersecurity training product and learned about the challenges that major corporations face in educating employees about cybersecurity standards. It was valuable training and could help me in my career one day. More of the companies at shows like CES should realize that some of the young women they employ as “booth babes” could actually be valuable assets to their companies.
I learned a lot, good and bad, during my tenure as a brand representative. But when I think back about my time, I realize that the most degrading part of my experience was the infantilizing title “booth babe” itself.