Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Booth babes. (It seemed like such a good idea at the time.)

A few years ago, when I was waiting to give blood, someone asked me to sign up for the Caitlin Raymond Bone Marrow Registry.  I can’t remember what it all entailed – a cheek swab, I think – but i do remember that the person who “recruited” me was a nice, middle-aged woman.  And that she told me that there was some sort of cut off date, which I was closely approaching, for the age where there was no more interest in your being a bone marrow donor. That age, as I clearly recall, was 60.

So, although I signed up, I’m guessing that my information has now been filed away in the “dormant” database, if not jettisoned entirely.

Other than the first letter I received from the AARP – a good decade in the rear-view mirror, at this point – being told that my bone marrow was nearing its sell-by date was one of the most pointed darling-you-are-growing-old reminders that I’ve gotten.

In any case, they’re always on the lookout for young, healthy registrants for the bone marrow registry, especially, I’m sure, those who will remain in the active database for more than a year or two.

And UMass Memorial Medical Center of Worcester, the home of the registry I had signed up for, has been out in full force recruiting volunteers.

But they’re no longer leaving the recruiting to nice middle-aged women.

Not, they’ve been hiring what in thebooth babes marketing biz we used to call “booth babes.” In fact, the UMass Memorial “paid a Boston-area modeling agency $40,000 to $50,000 a week for models to work in dozens of malls and at special events.” (Source: Boston Globe.)

Having been  to dozens upon dozens of trade shows over the year, I am quite familiar with the use of prospect-wooing models. Most of the trade shows I’ve gone to were techie events, with a majority male attendee list. The last show I attended, maybe two years ago, still seemed to have a goodly number of booth babes floating around. Some things just don’t change.

One of the more memorable booth babes I saw was years ago, at  a financial services technology conference.  British Telecom had models in shorty French maids costumes giving out Twinings tea.  I can’t recall the connection to BT. I guess the tea was English Breakfast.

At another show, I actually wanted some information on a company/product, but when I went to their booth, it was populated by a bevy of cutie-pies in black cocktail dresses, none of whom knew jack about the product being promoted. I looked around that 40’x40’ foot booth in vain for someone in khakis and a company logo polo shirt who could answer my questions. Then I spotted a decidedly uncomfortable looking young woman in a black cocktail dress.  Unlike the booth babes, she was average looking, a bit zaftig, had her hair pulled back in a not-so-becoming pony tail. Plus she was wearing sensible shoes, rather than teetering around in heels. 


I went over to talk to her and, indeed, she was a company employee, the sole person on duty in the booth who actually knew what the company did.

I often wonder about how successful that event was for the company.

There’s no doubt they got a lot of leads, but I’m sure there were plenty of prospective buyers who went away scratching their heads because the folks in the booth didn’t know gigabyte from overbite, ewe from RAM.

Of course, it’s not all booth babes.

One year when I was with Genuity, we hired actors, who stood in cherry-pickers, maybe 15-20 feet above the show floor, reading a script about our Black Rocket Internet service.  One of the actors I recognized from an Exedrin ad. Almost famous.

It wasn’t a particularly successful show for us. Then again, nothing that we ever did was particularly successful for us. Thus the company ended up in bankruptcy, and defunct.  Perhaps we should have used booth babes, and not actors whose greatest role had been the man with the pounding headache.

Booth babes apparently worked quite well for UMass Memorial, as bone marrow registry enlistees were well up.

After all, what red-blooded American male can turn down a pretty, blue-haired girl in a mini-skirt who’s asking for nothing more than your name and a cheek swab?

This being Massachusetts, the plot thickens.

Not only was UMass Memorial outdoing itself in netting bone marrow registrants. But they were apparently charging insurance providers a big, whopping amount to do the initial testing.  Tests that should have cost $100 or so were being charged to insurance companies (and self-insurers) at orders of magnitude more than that.

In the last decade, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island became the only states where legislators mandated insurers pay for bone marrow testing…Nationally, most hospitals and other donor-recruitment organizations do not charge for the testing, said Michael Boo, chief strategy officer for the National Marrow Donor Program.

So, if they’re charging, say, $4K for a $100 test, no wonder they can afford to spring for $40-50K per week for blue-haired booth babes.

Not surprisingly, those footing the testing bills have pushed back on what they feel are exorbitant charges, and UMass Memorial has "stopped using models.”

One more job that ain’t in demand what it used to be.

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