Pretty big news on the exhibition front on Tuesday, as UK Construction Week and FIT Show both announced brand new exhibitor codes and the use of “promo girls” on stands during the course of their exhibitions.

We began with BBC News and their coverage of UK Construction Week’s decision.

Mainstream news

Let me begin by saying that when I heard of these new codes of conduct for exhibitors, I wasn’t really surprised. It was only a matter of time. If industry exhibitions decided not to go the way they have, they would be on the wrong side of the argument, and would have come in for some very heavy criticism.

Lets start with UK Construction Week. The BBC reported this story with the quoted headline online: “don’t use showgirls to self roof tiles”. You can click here and read that story in full.

In short, after criticism last year, the huge show has now published it’s own exhibitors code of conduct which I think ticks a lot of the right boxes. These are the main bullet points:

  • Clothing must be deemed appropriate for a business event. If the organiser deems the clothing to be unsuitable the organiser reserves the right to prevent admittance of the staff into the event.
  • The exhibitor must inform the organiser which promotional staff agency they are using prior to the event
  • Any activity promotional staff are asked to undertake other than on stand lead generation and handing our literature must be agreed with the organiser before the event
  • Consider the mix of staff you have on the stand (Gender, age, ethnicity etc), do they represent the diversity of your company, and if not, be prepared to explain why not
  • Consider whether you have asked staff to do something that could be deemed to objectify them as men or women as this is strictly forbidden and could result in closure of your stand

This is pretty detailed. It doesn’t just address the promo girl issue, but goes on to encourage exhibitors to focus on other hot topics at the moment, such as gender, ethnicity and diversity. I haven’t been given a copy of the FIT Show statement, I’m having to go on what has been reported elsewhere. So, if you guys at FIT are reading, please feel free to email me a copy of your full statement!

Read the full UK Construction Week statement here

DGB Tech

Following others

Let me be clear, this is not some light bulb, huzzah moment in our industry. This is a “finally” moment. This has long been an issue I have vented about for years at every exhibition, and little to nothing is said about it. Other than a Georgian bar company who politely disagreed with my stance when I pushed them on it.

And let me be clear on another front, there should be no triumphalism be it on DGB or any other industry media publication. A few blog posts, a few letters to the editor will have had little effect. It would be very wrong to say that this would have had any tangible effect.

The reason why exhibitions are publishing these sorts of statements are because they have been pushed into it, in very much the same way sport has been pushed into it. Call me a sceptic. But if social change, coupled with modern tech advances like social media, had not occurred, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Business and industry has been forced into this, else risking major backlash on social media, which would eventually trickle through to mainstream media.

This is simply our sector catching up with social change at least a couple of years too late. If exhibitions had come out with this guidance a few years earlier, I may have even called them leaders on the matter.

I do wonder if quietly certain people and companies are deriding this new code of conduct. Change doesn’t always come sweeping, and there are those who tend to dig their heels in before finally accepting that things have to change. I also wonder if those who openly disagreed with my stance on promo girls at previous events and intend to exhibit again will be so vocal again?

Lets remember the end goal here. It is for our industry to grow and evolve into a sector that is far more diverse and welcoming to all those who wish to join it. The industry remains miles behind on that front. This new exhibitor code plays part of a wider effort to open the industry up and force it to become something far more 21st century. Remember, we’re suffering badly from a lack of new talent coming into the industry. It would help us greatly if the outside world saw our industry as a place where diversity thrives and is a welcoming place to work.

Lets also be clear that this is not about doing people out of jobs. There is no need for talent agencies to start shutting up shop and throwing in the towel. The argument here is how promo men and women are presented in front of visitors at such trade shows. I remember at the first FIT Show a company had hired a bunch of guys dressed up like Tarzan to go around promoting their stand. I personally think the people at talent agencies make superb brand ambassadors at trade shows. If they are given a brief of what it’s about, the products on show etc, they can be a real asset to the company exhibiting. But as it has been suggested, does it need people dressed in next to nothing to help sell windows and doors?

I shall be attending both UK Construction Week and the 2019 FIT Show, where no doubt this topic of conversation inside and outside the industry will have progressed further. It will be interesting to see if companies decide to push the boundaries of these new exhibitor codes or whether they decide to focus properly on product and stand design.

As always, all opinions and thoughts on this topic and others are welcome via the comments section below. 

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