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exhibiting 101
Filling the Booth-Staffing Gap
If staffing needs exceed your employee head count or skill set, it's time to consider temporary personnel. Here's the least you need to know before hiring professional staffers for your next show. By Candy Adams
Exhibit marketing is all about face-to-face interactions. As such, trade show success hinges on having an ample number of staffers to quickly and successfully engage attendees, and on ensuring that the right staffers are present to execute the various tasks required. But what happens if your company can't spare enough employees to adequately staff your exhibit? Or maybe you have plenty of people to work the booth, but they lack the critical skills to do so effectively. What then?

Your answer is to hire temporary staffers to fill various positions within your company's exhibit. Here, then, is an overview of temporary staffing as it relates to the exhibiting world. The information should help you find, train, and implement a little hired help into your exhibit-marketing mix.

Types of Staffers
While many temporary professionals work trade shows, there aren't specific industry-wide titles for these jobs and exact descriptions of the tasks they'll perform. So before you hire a staffer, ensure that he or she can effectively perform the duties required in the manner in which you demand. Generally speaking, however, here are some of the most common roles performed by temporary exhibit staff.
➤ Hosts/hostesses – These people act as your company's brand ambassadors. Most often they draw attention to your product or service, distribute promotional materials, and assist with food and beverage service.
➤ Promotional models – Sometimes referred to as booth babes, promotional models are usually women hired as eye candy at shows serving male-dominated industries. These workers may engage with attendees and provide product information.
➤ Greeters/receptionists – This category of staffer typically greets booth visitors and acts as a central gatekeeper for all exhibit activities by directing people to various areas of interest or ushering them to meeting rooms. These staffers may also scan badges and check in visitors for scheduled meetings or demos.
➤ Product specialists/demonstrators – Typically skilled in public speaking, demonstrators and product specialists offer basic product information or live demonstrations. However, they require considerable training to ensure they can speak intelligently about your product, company, and brand.
➤ Crowd gatherers – Friendly and inviting, crowd gatherers stop, greet, and engage attendees in the aisles. They may ask qualifying questions to gauge attendees' interest in a demo and possibly direct them to an activity within the booth. They may also help seat visitors in a theater, scan attendee badges, pass out thank-you gifts, and lead visitors further into the exhibit after a presentation.
➤ Lead generators – These staffers often have more company/product training than crowd gatherers, and as such, they ask more probing questions to further qualify attendees. Lead generators also tend to record lead data and pass off the most qualified prospects to company sales staff for ongoing discussion.
➤ Sales assistants – A sales assistant is trained in a specific product area, although he or she may not offer demos or presentations. Rather, the sales assistant's role is to answer basic questions and write orders, keeping key salespeople available for VIP meetings and demos.
➤ Presenters – Presenters are the talking heads in your exhibit. Highly skilled at public speaking, they offer formal presentations often in theater or on-stage settings. To do so, they must acquaint themselves with your company, products, and services.
➤ Master of ceremonies – Often used to introduce a series of presenters, masters of ceremonies can also perform "carnival barker" duties, inviting attendees to enter the booth and participate in an activity.

Where to Find Them
There are numerous ways to locate temporary staff for exhibits and events. First, check your exhibitor manual, as most large trade shows list an official talent agency. This isn't usually the cheapest option since such talent companies typically share net profits with show management in exchange for being named the official agency, which often drives up price. However, hiring through one of these firms can help head off problems early as the agency will have someone on site just in case you have an issue with a hired staffer.

Another way to secure temp staffers is to list your requirements/openings with a specialized experiential talent or event-staffing agency. You can certainly google "event staffing" when searching for possible agencies, or peruse the staffing listings on Find It Marketplace at www.ExhibitorOnline.com/FindItStaffing. Look for a firm that fully understands the nuances of trade shows and is willing to train personnel on booth etiquette, proper attire, how and where to secure their badges, attendee interactions, etc.

Depending on how involved you want to be with recruiting your own talent, you can also seek out individual temp workers or agencies by asking for referrals from industry colleagues or via LinkedIn groups. Keep in mind, however, if you don't hire staff through an agency, you'll lose the inherent staff-management aspects an agency typically provides, such as screening, bonding, background checks, and payroll.

Screening and Selection
Regardless of the position your talent is filling and the skill level involved, each staffer must present a professional demeanor and an attitude that's in line with your company's brand and culture. So as part of the hiring process, request current résumés to assess staffers' qualifications and experience, plus a photo portfolio (often called a comp or zed card). This helps ensure the staffers you hire are the right look for the exhibiting company or target audience.

Depending on the position's scope, you may want to ask for references or testimonials from past clients that can attest to the staffer's work ethic. You want to know if the staffer is punctual, reliable, professionally dressed, and accountable for his or her work. But just as important, every staffer should have a high level of enthusiasm, a helpful can-do attitude, and an outgoing personality.

As a side note, if you've found a staffer that you really like and who works well with the rest of your team, consider contracting this person for a series of shows. I've hired the same crowd gatherer for numerous shows, thereby eliminating much of the normal training time required to bring a temporary staffer up to speed. Just remember that high-quality staffers are often at a premium, so book early.

Training and Preparation
Once you've selected your staffers, it's time to train them. If temps fail at their jobs, it's most often because they were hired without being given a detailed explanation of the company's expectations or at the very least a list of the top 10 questions they'll most likely encounter during the show (along with the appropriate answers).

Purchase some of your staffers' time before the show to educate them about your company, mission, goals, exhibit, target audience, products, and key sales messages. And walk them through the booth basics, such as where, how, and when to scan leads, where meeting rooms are located, how to find specific staffers, etc.

Even if they're just going to be performing crowd-gathering activities, temporary staffers need to be able to relay basic information, and they should have a brief elevator speech ready for anyone that asks, "So ... what do you do?" Also run through a quick primer on "boothmanship," covering everything from your expectations regarding the dress code, arrival times, breaks, etc. to hard and fast rules regarding cellphones, eating/drinking in the booth, etc.

Attire and Uniforms
Almost any type of attire can be requested of or provided for temporary staffers. From lingerie and swimwear models at apparel shows to licensed costumed characters, the sky's the limit. To get what you want, simply spell out your dress code in the request for proposal or in the initial conversation with your staff provider. However, if you're hiring staffers for the sole purpose of modeling or providing eye candy, note that some business-oriented shows have tightened their rules to ban exceptionally revealing or suggestive clothing. Check your exhibitor manual to ensure your intended attire is within regulations.

If you don't require nontraditional trade show attire, simply be sure to specify what you want your staffer to wear to ensure there aren't any misunderstandings. Some typical specifications might be business suits, dresses, and black slacks with white blouses. Or, if your regular staff wears a logo-adorned uniform, provide one to the temp staffer to help him or her blend in with the rest of your team.

Costs and Expectations
Since professional trade show booth staffers are temporary – as opposed to full time – exhibitors often end up paying more per hour for these workers than a business might pay for a similar worker's eight-hour shift. That is, these workers still need to make a living even though you only need them for maybe four or five hours a day, which drives up their hourly rate. Prices vary considerably based on duties, experience, the city hosting the event, and whether you hire talent directly or through an agency, the latter of which will add an 18- to 20-percent agency fee. I've paid as little as $14 an hour for someone from a temp agency to simply greet booth visitors and hand out gifts at a show in a second-tier city (such as Cincinnati and Indianapolis), and as much as $60 an hour (including an agency fee) for professional staffers sourced through talent agencies in tier-one cities (like New York and Los Angeles).

Even so, outsourcing through a professional staffing agency still makes a lot of sense because the agency is absorbing many of the costs required to fill the position – including recruiting, interviewing and testing, records maintenance, placement, payroll, travel and parking expenses, etc. Plus, agencies do the heavy lifting to find the best talent available.

Although temporary staffing costs are generally worth every dime, it's wise to educate yourself about how each agency is paying its staff and what, if any, additional requirements it is passing on to you. For example, ask if the agency is paying staffers under a W-2 as a temporary employee, or as an independent contractor with no taxes withheld. The rate you are paying should reflect whether or not any taxes and worker's compensation are being withheld from the temp's pay, which also affects the exhibitor's liability risk in case an injury occurs in your booth during the show.

When it comes to breaks, there are labor laws that dictate the number and length required based on the total number of hours worked. Plus, the staffing agency may have additional established break rules in place. So always discuss break-time policies with the agency to ensure that the staffer can accommodate your needs and that you're operating within legal and agency guidelines.

Finally, if you happen to hire a staffer from outside the show city (perhaps a highly skilled presenter or exhibit-management professional), the staffing agency usually handles all travel arrangements and invoices you for the added fees. However, as always, discuss such arrangements well in advance to ensure you're all on the same page.

As you can see, temporary staffing is really just another logistical hurdle many exhibit managers face. However, with the aforementioned knowledge, you should be able to sail over this hurdle with ease, and to ensure that your booth staff meets or exceeds your face-to-face needs. E

Candy Adams
"The Booth Mom," is an independent exhibit project manager, trainer, speaker, consultant, and an Exhibitor Conference faculty member. CandyAdams@BoothMom.com

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