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Connoisseur At Large: Image Quest

The connoisseur’s friends might lie to him, began the woman across the table. His business associates might fudge the truth, and his companion, however well-intentioned she may be, might be less than forthright. But his image coach would never lie. “The others will say, ‘Oh, you look fine,’ or ‘No, you don’t need to lose any weight,’ or ‘I thought that was a marvelous speech,’ even if it was a yawner,” said the London-based Mary Spillane. “But it’s the job of the image coach to focus on these deficits and improve them.”

The Connoisseur gnawed his lip, wondering if he were up to this kind of merciless scrutiny. On the other hand, could he afford not to be? As Spillane explained, if there had ever been a time when he could take his image for granted, that time was over. “Today,” she declared, “the way we look, sound, and act are more important in business than how capable or clever we are.” This confirms the worst fears of those poor grinds whose careers have been set back by selecting the wrong wines at dinner or by wearing tan loafers with a blue suit. The good news, said Spillane, is that there is something they can do about it. “It doesn’t matter what profession you’re in. You can be more charismatic, more effective, more successful,” she continued. “The key is to brand yourself.”

The Connoisseur suppressed an impulse to flinch, suspecting that drollery was inconsistent with a more dynamic image. After all, this was serious stuff. Spillane, author of Branding Yourself: How to Look, Sound, and Behave Your Way to Success (Pan Books, 2000), charges such corporate clients as Marks & Spencer, GlaxoSmithKline, and the BBC upwards of $1,500 an hour for such counsel.

“It’s the same for individuals as for a multinational enterprise,” said Spillane. “Think of the great brands: Mercedes, Coca-Cola, Microsoft. Each has its own PBI—personal brand identity. It is unique and distinct. You, too, have a unique PBI, but it is also possible to stray from it and send the wrong signals.”

The Connoisseur chewed on this a moment. There was really nothing new about all this. For generations boys and girls have been admonished to put their best foot forward, to scrub their faces and shine their shoes, and to say “please” and “thank you.” Who knew there was an entire science involved?

“Like it or not,” Spillane warned, “you’ve only got about 30 seconds to make an impression on people. Studies have shown that when you meet new people, 55 percent of the impact we make is due to the way we dress, act, and walk through the door. What you say amounts to only 7 percent of your overall impression.”

The Connoisseur shuddered as he recalled his image excesses of the past. As a young executive during the dress-for-success 1980s, his fetish had been bow ties, large floppy things like polka-dot butterflies nestling beneath his chin. He fancied they made him look intellectual yet stylish, raffish yet refined, until, in the heat of a spat, his inamorata’s true feelings emerged: “And that tie! You look like Barney Fife.” Needless to say, the Connoisseur has sported regimental striped ties ever since.

For the Connoisseur, said Spillane, his new PBI called for more than gimmicks. Rather, the trick would be to create an image that conveyed his core values. “A successful brand won’t turn you into someone else—it should make you more you,” she explained.

The Connoisseur found this a refreshing departure from his youthful days at prep school, when various instructors flung erasers at his head, suggesting that he be a little less himself. He wasn’t hoping for charisma, but a little magnetism would be just fine. So what should he do? Get a haircut? Lose weight? Adopt an English accent?

“No, nothing like that,” Spillane said. “But there is one thing . . . that tie!” His sensible, staunchly masculine silk tie that was handmade in England? “It’s rather drab,” she continued, “while you’re quite the opposite. You should get something that announces that fact to the world. Say, have you thought about wearing a bow tie?”

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