The Low-down on the Booth Babe Crack-down

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This week, Reed Exhibitions, organisers of the Infosecurity Europe event, announced changes to their Ts and Cs that outlaw the use of ‘booth babes’ (more formally known as scantily clad women) to attract foot traffic to their booth. (The use of the word ‘attract’ was not accidental).

For years now, more and more information security vendors have used provocatively dressed models and agency staff on their booths at Infosecurity Europe – and other industry events – to entice delegates onto their stands.

For the last few years, Reed Exhibitions have received an increasing number of complaints from its visitors about this out-dated and arguably unnecessary trend, and have taken the decision to adjust exhibitor terms and conditions to ensure that similar tactics will not be deployed in 2013.

Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, the majority of complaints came from men, who argued that ‘selling sex’ was an insult on the delegate and the entire industry. Female complaints declared the behaviour demeaning and old-fashioned.

Claire Sellick, Infosecurity Europe event director, is absolutely confident that the decision to adjust Ts and Cs is the right one, and listed several justifications for the pronouncement. The most striking and – in my opinion, most important – is that the use of ‘booth babes’ completely detracts from the integrity and importance of the technology and products being sold.

Information security is an incredibly serious industry – an industry which prides itself on R&D, intelligence, strategy and problem solving. Call me crazy, but women dressed in nurses uniforms with the slogan ‘Would you like a penetration test?’ across their bodies, and dominatrix cat suits do not scream those adjectives.

My point is that information security vendors should be focussing on flaunting their superior market offering and showing pride in their technology. Using provocatively dressed females who, with all due respect, probably have no idea what SSL/TLS or PCI DSS mean (that’s not a dig at models, it’s just a reality that the general public are often uneducated about information security), suggests that they need something to hide behind, which in most cases, it not true and thus a disservice to their brand.

Claire Sellick explained that any negative connotations with Infosecurity Europe or the exhibitors displaying such tactics are something that Reed Exhibitions is keen to avoid. She was also eager to clarify that the new Ts and Cs are not intended to discourage the use of models, but that the sole intention is to ensure that attire is appropriate.

I’m not saying that there is no place for using sex to sell in 2013, in fact there are many industries which thrive on it and will continue to do so indefinitely, but I don’t believe that information security should be one of them. It doesn’t suit us. Sure, it’s a very male-dominated industry, but let’s not exploit this and insult our very talented and intelligent professionals by continuing to assume that they’ll purchase an anti-virus solution because of a lady in a bikini painted gold.

Reed Exhibitions is a people business, which puts its customers at the very core of its business model. Feedback and complaints are taken very seriously and actioned where possible. In this instance, I believe the customers’ call for an evolution of marketing tactics was spot on.


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