Just how important is image to your business. One Dubai consultant argues it is vital.
Mirror, mirror on the wall
When the former BP chief executive Tony Hayward announced to struggling residents of the Gulf of Mexico coast that he wanted his life back, he further tarnished his company's already battered brand. Image, as the British oil giant learnt, is everything in business.
"How you present your company is a reflection on the company itself," says Kaoru Makhlouf, an image consultant based in Dubai.
"It's about competition. It's very difficult to choose between companies when they are offering products at similar prices. The image the company presents is very important. It is how you choose."
For some executives, who focus on results as much as appearances, concerns about image feel superfluous. This can be a mistake.
"In an increasingly visual world it is important to understand that the CEO, as well as the other customer-facing employees, should reflect the company they represent," says Carol Collins, the president of The Federation of Image Professionals International.
"By possessing the necessary soft skills that include appropriate dress, etiquette, body language etc they will gain that extra 'edge' to their professionalism and gain the trust and confidence of potential clients. This subsequently can greatly affect the bottom line."
Gloria Starr is an image consultant based in the US who advises wealthy clients in Dubai on global attire, manners, protocol, meet-and-greet skills and social graces for different cultures. "Companies engage the expertise of an outside qualified expert such as myself to enlighten people on appropriate attire, body language, speaking eloquence, respect, workplace politics and level of commitment to excellence," she says.
Ms Makhlouf, a Japanese national, started her Style Management Consultancy when she arrived in Dubai in 2003. Since then hundreds of companies and business executives have hired her firm to improve their image.
"First we usually spend quite a significant time in an interview to analyse what they're doing, then based on that we make a detailed programme," she says. "We look at the company name, or a very simple one is the business card design, stationery, packaging or logo and the services part, the way they make sales calls or dress."
There is no detail too small to overlook, she says. "For sales people the way they dress, the way they knock on the door and even the way they present their business card are all important. First impressions are crucial. It is the small details that make the big impact."
In some cases, a successful image is as important in managing an executive's reputation internally as it is in dealing with outside clients.
"Once a general manager of a five-star hotel came to me and said the people around him said he did not look or behave like a general manager," Ms Makhlouf says. "I suggested he changed his whole look, from his eyeglasses to the way he dressed, and they way he projected himself and presented his image. You can buy expensive clothes, but if you do not know how to present yourself they will not make much of an impact."
She says understanding local culture is also crucial for expatriates working in the UAE.
"The human factor and networking is very important. You need to call people and clients often just to say hello and ask how the family is and so on. This is very important to a long-term business relationship. That's how people may choose the company."