Of Book Worms and Booth Babes

Little Black Dress

My wife is a beautiful and extremely intelligent woman.  She currently does promotional marketing work, as it pays well and is typically done on the weekends, which allows one of us to always be with our kids.

She has worked everything from auto shows to BlizzCon and ComicCon to technology trade shows.  The roles have typically involved engaging with people at the event and driving traffic to the booth as well as learning and communicating unique selling propositions (USPs) and product features.

Recently she worked a large security products show here in Orange County.  The promotional staffing company was looking for “technology minded females” to work with their client, a security equipment manufacturer, alongside their staff in the booth during the show.

The company that hired her sent over a power point with some basic product info and USPs to communicate to passers by.  She committed those to memory and even had me do a mock interaction to assure she knew how to navigate the information on the fly.  Of course it wasn’t her job to give speeds and feeds, just to speak intelligently and then get the prospective clientele to a resident expert in the booth.  She was also responsible for tracking leads and getting people scanned into the system.  Dress was business casual: Black pants, a branded polo shirt, and black flats.

This all sounds very routine and hardly worth writing about to this point I know.

Once she arrived at the booth to start the show, she and the other women hired for the task were told by the manufacturer not to speak about the product or the company at all.  They just wanted them to look good and scan badges.  My wife later learned that the company had originally asked for women in black dresses and high heels to work the show, and it was the promotional company that convinced them to change the attire and provide basic product info, as the staff would be adept at delivering key messages.

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She actually was somewhat frustrated with the whole situation.  Not only had she prepared  for the task of delivering the provided information, but she enjoys interacting with people in a meaningful way as well.  Her attire positioned her as an equal with the other people in the booth, which meant that many potential clients she interacted with asked her questions that she knew the answers to, but she was not allowed to answer them.  Instead, she had to pretend not to know the answer and direct them to another staff member.

Her final statement on the matter was what really struck me though.  She said that “If they just wanted me to smile and look pretty, I would have much rather worn the black dress and heels,” as to fulfill that role to the best of her ability.

She was happy to be the conservatively dressed professional woman, given that she was able to fulfill that role to her best ability by promoting the company and its capabilities .

She would have been just as content however, to play the role of the attractive, smiling badge scanner given she could do that to the best of her ability as well in the black dress.

Her frustration arose because she was asked to look the part of the educated professional while sound the part of the smiling badge scanner in a black dress.  It played to none of her strengths, and she felt that she was underutilized in both the brains and beauty department.

Given the attention female booth staff has received over the last few years in our industry, I thought it was an interesting perspective and one worth sharing.

I’d love to hear other takes on the potential implications and lessons for manufacturers staffing booths in the comments below.