When tennis legend Andre Agassi powered his way into the tennis arena he was known to be boyish and aggressive. Today, after a well thought out image makeover exercise, his is the image of a family man and he’s respected around the globe for his charity foundation.
Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was advised to change the tone of her voice, to wear a jacket and skirt of the same colour so that no one realised that she was only 5 ft 3. Her wearing the colour blue was a master stroke - not only was it the colour of her Conservative Party but it became a shade associated with her.
Closer home, the rise of actor Shah Rukh Khan from a small-screen actor to Bollywood’s badshah, is an example of a carefully planned public persona. His public appearance, media exposure, promotional tours etc have all been tailored to enhance his image as a screen idol.
Welcome to the world of image makeovers, where an image consultant’s magic wand does not only change a celebrity’s personality but also dictates how the world looks at and adores him or her. Creating a public identity for public figures such as actors, singers, politicians and even models is an important aspect of image management. An image manager’s job involves advising them on every aspect of their personality, including dress code, statements to the press and public appearances - all aimed at changing the perception of their personality in the public domain.
Image consultancy is a more corporatised version of public relations. As an image consultant you need to plan a focused image makeover for your client and slowly progress towards it by achieving defined milestones over a period of time.
Managing the image of an individual is all about ideating and creating a brand image for a celebrity so that he or she is able to address the right target group. The media plays an important role in building and maintaining that image. An image consultant’s job begins with identifying what image an individual or the personality needs to portray and to whom it needs to be communicated. The next step involves identifying the right communication medium and the tool.
Also, once the image is built, the next step is to maintain it. It also involves handling negative publicity in a clever manner.
Take the case of Shashikant Someshwar, director, western region, Perfect Relations. A graduate in statistics and a post- graduate in mass communication, Someshwar jumped into image management because he thought there was more creativity involved in ‘creating’ individuals and one way in which he could put his networking skills to good use.
“My choice of this field dates back to when I was in college and public relations was at a nascent stage and still gaining exposure. Professors in college within the wide bucket of communications would render cases to us in this realm and the dynamics used to fascinate me,” he says.
He has had an opportunity to advise NBA on their market entry strategy in India, support the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee in the recently held state elections with media relations, and does celebrity management for a number of retainer clients. “The similarity that I have noticed while working with such renowned personalities is that they all are very receptive to the changes they need to bring about in their public lives in order to supplement a desired image management or makeover. However, what most people do not realise is that it is an evolving process and it takes time to build a particular public image. Hence, the greatest challenge has been to change the mindset from short-term gains to an ever-evolving effort to achieve the desired reputation and further manage it,” he says.
Apart from this, there are the usual issues. From starry tantrums to incompetent briefs to pure respect for one’s time… but one has to learn to deal with these and achieve set targets. At times the job in hand can get very frustrating with results dependent on the perfect symphony between multiple allies and that’s when your patience and skills are put to test, he adds.
As for basic requirements, it is essential to have excellent communication skills to be able to deal with the constant pressure of managing expectations from your clients as well as the media.
What's it about?
Image consultancy is a more of a corporatised version of public relations. As an image consultant you need to plan a focused image makeover for your client and slowly progress towards it by achieving defined milestones over a period of time. Relationship management with the client, media, industry bodies, NGOs, celebrities and political parties are part and parcel of the job. You must be able to understand the industry environment panning across sectors to be able to advise clients. Be in sync with the changing market dynamics in the field of communications and develop the ability to network with a wide spectrum of people. It is also important to be a good salesperson to excel in this field
8 am : Read newspapers
10 am-12 noon: Internal review meetings
12 pm- 4 pm: Client meetings
4 pm - 6 pm: Media meetings
6 pm - 7 pm: Internal review meetings
Trainee: Rs5,000 to Rs7,500 a month
Executive: Rs12,000 to Rs25,000 a month (2-3 levels)
Manager: Rs25,000 to Rs45,000 a month (2-3 levels)
Senior manager: Rs45,000 to Rs70,000 a month
Assistant director: Rs70,000 to Rs1.50 lakh a month (2 -3 levels)
Director: Rs1.50 lakh and above
. Communication skills (oral and written)
. Interpersonal skills
. Ability to multi-task
. Tactical and strategic planning
. Creative aptitude
How do i get there?
One can opt for Bachelor’s of Mass Media (BMM) after higher secondary certificate (HSC). These are three-year degree courses, with six semesters, managed by a full-time and visiting faculty drawn from the industry. During the final year one can specialise in either journalism or public relations
Institutes & urls
. Xaviers Institute of Communication (XIC - Mumbai)
. Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIM- C), Pune
. The Mudra Institute of Communication (MICA), Ahmedabad
. The North Point Centre of Learning, Khandala (Maharashtra)
Pros & Cons
You get to interact with celebrities and politicians, the who’s who of society
This is an era of specialised communications
The job is about multi-level communications led by experts focusing on diverse disciplines
Why did you decide to become an image consultant?
Before becoming an image consultant, I was a business journalist and editor for many years. The decision stemmed from an urge and effort to try and be part of the process rather than be part of the commentary or the commentators. Having seen the limits to reporting on business from the outside, I recognised that being on the inside track of business gives you information and perspective that simply cannot be gained by being on the outside. Eighteen years ago, when I co-founded Perfect Relations, it was a new field, pretty much uncharted, and I was able to make the transition with some degree of confidence and ease, but of course it proved to be immensely more difficult than what I had thought it to be at the beginning. We felt a bit like pioneers, seeing the industry develop and change - in some cases changes led by us.
What does the job entail?
It is about multi-level communications, led by experts, focusing on diverse disciplines…from stock markets to CSR, from information-based lobbying to devising consumer engagement initiatives. This is the era of specialist communications and new media. Most large PR firms today are divided into practice areas.
Certainly, areas like public affairs, financial communications or technology practice or healthcare communications are the new exciting and challenging disciplines. Simply put, there is growth everywhere. The globalisation of Indian businesses and advent of global companies have triggered demands on the PR industry to mature faster than many of its counterparts in Asia.
Any tips on how to become an image consultant? Is there any particular skill set that one needs to work on before jumping into the field?
It is a profession that demands only what intelligence you bring in. However, knowledge of how media works in India is an asset; contacts in media are a value-add. Let me first debunk the impression that image management means mere socialising or having people skills.
Dilip Cherian Interviewed by Vandana Ramnani