Asset source: Wikipedia Commons | Art by Noel Ransome
In this world rife with branding opps and marketing "activations," promotional models are ubiquitous. They are the bikini-clad women draped over hoods at car shows, doling out chocolates at Yonge-Dundas Square, proffering swag bags at TIFF, and pressing middle-aged dads to fill out ballots. Depending on your vantage point, promo modeling can look like a fun and glamorous way to make some quick cash—or a demoralizing exercise in personal objectification.
— Nikki Monique
From paid-to-party girls in nightclubs to "booth babes" at trade shows, VICE chatted with some past and present promo models to find out why they got into it, and what it's really like.Dealing With Other Women Can Be TrickyAt trade shows, the few ladies there will often give you looks like: Oh, just another booth babe. You do nothing with your life. — Candice JamesI know how some women view female promo models: with an eyeroll. It's funny how if we're working at a booth or whatever, women would approach and either be superfriendly and interested in what we have to say, or they would come up to us to judge us. It was also awkward if they were with their boyfriend and their boyfriend dragged them over and they look at you like, oh you're here to flirt with my man. — Masséni CarielWomen are either extremely friendly or extremely standoffish. If they're there with their boyfriend I usually make a point of smiling at and making eye contact with the woman first. Letting them know I'm not here to take your man away! — Avaah Blackwell
More Than Just A Pretty FaceThere's a lot of background we have to do that people don't know about that we actually do—in order to present a product really well. There's a lot of paperwork…[you have to be] diligent with your work and writing things down. A lot of promo models and brand ambassadors don't succeed in this type of position because they're not taking it seriously. It is a fun job but you have to be "on" at all times. If you're having a bad day, basically as soon as you arrive that bad day is gone because it's all about the people that you're going to be interacting with. It's all about being engaging and bringing attention to who you are by promoting whatever it is you're promoting. You're not a typical salesperson, you're making that friendly connection. Other spokesmodels just don't get it. They think, oh no one's at my booth, I can be on my phone, text my boyfriend, whatever. No you can't. You've got to be mindful and present. You've got to enjoy what you do, if you don't then get out. You can't be shy. You have to outgoing, friendly, happy and knowledgeable.
— Nikki Monique
For the auto show, sometimes you have to know every single car on the floor. The training was very intense I had to know all the specs, and then when you're on the floor there's podiums with information so they have you floating around trying to retain as much information as possible so if someone asks you a question, you're not just a pretty face. You need good communication skills, organization and determination. Also, if I don't get up in the morning and book myself jobs, I don't have any work. — Nicole de MeloYou See Some Weird ShitI was at a man's 60th birthday party at the Fairmont in Vancouver. It was just his family and friends, but for some reason he had hired models to mingle with everyone. It was really extravagant. There were close to 200 people there, but he wanted these ten girls from my modeling agency. It was kind of strange because all of these guys had their wives there but it was almost like they were trying to like, match us. It was very strange. We were so confused. We were unsure of who we should talk to because it was obvious these people were there with their significant others, but we didn't want to be getting hawk-eyed by the wives. We'd also want to get paid for our, job, you know what I mean? — Masséni CarielAt one event, we had to tattoo people with these temporary tattoos. Of course normally you don't touch people, so we always had to ask " Can I tattoo you?" The guys would be like, "Ahh yeah, bring it on!" They'd be putting your hand on them, saying "Hey tattoo here!" This was at a trade show. Some guys would take their shirts off. Like, guys, you don't need to do this. — Nikki Monique
We were doing promo stuff for a men's clothing line event in Cape Town. There were serious wedding proposals from guys in Mozambique, willing to fly you out the next day and take you all over the world. You get some crazy propositions. — Masséni Cariel One Pride we worked for a car company and they had the car on the street under a tent. We were working 'til two or three in the morning. At one point, people were, like, twerking up against the car and kept trying to get in the car with their drinks. Then the promo role turned into a security role. We didn't do the happy "Oh we'll tell you about this car" it was "make sure people don't dance on the car.'" — Jessica Robert
Harassment Is CommonplaceThere's a lack of respect towards women—yes I'm wearing a skimpy outfit and posing with cars, but I don't need you, Mr. Stranger Guy, grabbing my butt as I walk by. I tried to be professional about it because I understand I'm here in a role, wearing this outfit. I didn't feel like I was a model, I just felt like I was a piece of meat on display. ~Amandy Rose Silva-RangerI did experience harassment, 100 percent. I went on this train for a beer company—people apply to win this contest from all across Canada. Whoever wins, they flew them to Alberta and they were put on a train from Banff to Kamloops. They've just been partying for like a week straight. At the end of the line on the last stop is the big party at the end. It's all men who had won this prize. At this point, they were partying a lot but I don't think they'd been around that many women the whole time. So when we came on the train it was full-on harassment, pretty much. They were all wasted. I remember one coordinator who was good at dealing people who were out of line. But it wasn't just a venue where you could just remove someone—we were on a moving train. — Masséni Cariel
Anytime there's alcohol involved and there's a flock of women and you're nice to people for the demonstration of a product—they ask do you come with the car? No I don't come with the car. It's a ballot sheet! Just put your name down." — Victoria FrancisI've experienced sexual harassment many times—from male bosses, mainly, the on-site supervisors. I've quit a couple companies for that reason. I think there's a fine line and I think it gets crossed way too many times with promotional models, unfortunately. I think it's because the industry itself—he girls are expected to be a certain way with the clientele. I feel like the men that you're working for feel you're supposed to be that way with them as well. And lines just get crossed. — Nicole de MeloI've been asked many times to be a car show model. I did it once and that's all it took. I was constantly touched and groped and I did not feel comfortable. You have to be flirty but professional, and you have to be that way with both sexes. Back then, if some guy put his arm around your waist, you'd kind of have to just stand there until he stopped. You didn't want to lose a business deal. We're there, but we've got brains as well. We're not just there to look at. — Nikki MoniqueTelling The Masses To STFUI have no problem telling someone off. Just because I'm working doesn't mean I have to put up with verbal abuse or sexual assault. If they ask "What's your rate?" I'll turn around and say, "The same rate as your daughter" or "the same rate as your mother." You just become the queen of one-liners. — Candice James
We have hand signals—with my group of girls, it's a simple twirling of the wrist behind your back —it's an SOS. So if I see any of my girls twirling their wrist behind their back, I go up and ask them to come to a different area and do something for me, to get them out of the situation. It's something that I've always implemented when I'm working, just because I want to make sure everybody feels safe. You get some people that will just not leave you alone and they're very persistent. You need backup. — Nicole de MeloGenerally I prefer to just walk away if it's something I can easily walk away from. Or I just gently remind the person that I'm here to do a job and I'm a professional model. Or I give them my name. Like, hey, I'm a person. Or if I say, "The way you're looking at me makes me feel uncomfortable right now," it usually shocks them out. — Avaah Blackwell
When The Claws Come OutIt's so competitive! Who's going to get more attention? Who is the prettiest? That part of it bothered me. Although some of the girls I worked with were absolutely fantastic and humble—most of them were not. — Amandy Rose Silva-RangerThere's a sisterhood kind of feel but we're also competing for the same jobs. Sometimes a client will want the girl who has more followers on Instagram, or who fits their brand. Sometimes they don't want the sexy girl, they want the girl-next-door. You're always competing. — Kristen Cali
Usually there's quite a bit of cattiness. I think it comes from insecurity. You're being hired based off your looks so they're comparing themselves to each other, and if someone feels insecure compared to someone else, that's where the cattiness comes out. — Masséni CarielIt Has Its PerksI worked for the very first Hooters that opened in West Edmonton mall when I was 16 years old. It was my first job. My mother was horrified. But it was an amazing training program and they did a lot promotion modeling—we went to all the Eskimos games, we went to all the Trappers games, we were the ball catch girls for the foul balls. Lots of volunteering for sports events. They had the most camaraderie I've ever seen in a female-driven business with all female staff. I never saw a single girl out of the 15 girls that worked there fight. Ever. — Jennifer Lee You be working retail or you could be doing this and paying for school. I personally used it to start a business—three of them. This is how much I need, how am I gonna get there? It's a faster vehicle to get you there. I met all three of my business partners just working promos. — Candice James I've gone to so many concerts, I've met so many people that I never would have been able to if I wasn't in this industry. It really gives you an idea of how to read people. Whether you should be funny and outgoing or serious and professional. It also really helped me—I had really bad anxiety. I couldn't really talk to strangers when I was younger. It's helped me with that, and with my self-confidence." — Nicole de Melo
I put away about 15 percent of all my earnings, so if I do have to pay taxes come tax season I can. There's a lot of promo models that don't put money away. They think they're making great money, but if they ever get audited, they'd be screwed. — Kristen CaliThe first event I worked at was a car show. In ten days I made $2,500. I had so much fun doing it and worked with such a great group of people. Auto shows are my favorite, it's my bread and butter. — Nicole de MeloMost jobs are like, $15-25 an hour. But if I had a daughter I would be like "I'll pay you not to do promotional work." — Masséni Cariel
Gotta Look The Part: Young, Thin, and HotI dislike when I am working an event that you can't dress scandalous at all because I have a master canvas tattoo on my back worth $7k and like to show it off at these events. There is literally no bare skin on my back, it's all ink. Working events that you can dress revealing doesn't only bring in bank but it also makes my experience with people more personal. We have real conversations, take pictures with them and truly connect. I don't like events that require polo tops and khaki attire. That's just impersonal and boring. — Terr Elane GwaltneyOne time I was working this gala and we had to wear these showgirl outfits. I'm a very tall person. We get there and I'm like this is never going to fit me. But it needed to be done. I put on the body suit, gave myself a wedgie, put the skirt on and for rest of the night I just smiled and pretended nothing was wrong. — Kristen CaliIf you were working regularly and they saw you were putting on weight, they would just not hire you. They wouldn't say anything about it—they'd be very delicate, they wouldn't put themselves in a situation to be called out. — Bella MitchellI feel like there's an expiry date on this job. I'm gonna get older. There's a few people over thirty working, but they have really good genetics. Rarely do I see anyone over 30 in the industry. — Kristen CaliFollow Tiffy Thompson on Twitter.