'No brand is more important than Brand You'

Sonali Chowdhury

Sheena Agarwal believes your image is your calling card and there's no brand more important than Brand You. That's something many companies as well as individuals in India are quickly realising. As the cut-and-thrust of corporate work and war intensifies and the workplace gets increasingly globalised, the way corporate companies, their employees and entrepreneurs present themselves could make a world of difference.

That's where Agarwal's Urbanista Image Consulting steps in. Armed with training at the Academy of Image Mastery in collaboration with London Image Institute, she launched her start-up in 2010, and coaches clients on grooming, etiquette, communication and personal appearance so that they acquire that all-important 'stand-out' factor. Not surprisingly, her corporate clients include some big names like Apollo Munich Life Insurance, RNA, Beetal, Vodafone and Mediacom. In an interview, Agarwal speaks about the domain and its scope in India.
Excerpts from an interview:

With a background in investment banking, why did you venture into image consultancy?

I had joined investment bank Goldman Sachs soon after my post-graduation and realised I had to change my appearance so that others could take me seriously. My studies at the Mudra Institute of Communication got me thinking about the power of branding. This is the age of brands. And amid the plethora and clout of even the big brands, the most unique of them all is Brand You. Your personal brand value is imprinted and evaluated the second you step into a room.

What kind of response did you anticipate while launching the service?

The concept of image consulting was relatively unknown when we started. So we expected a seeding period. But we started getting client queries within the first week of our launch. This is a young industry -- only 2-3 years old -- and it is at a nascent stage.  The challenges were more to do with marketing ourselves. We make sure we hand-hold our clients to ensure effectiveness. The market is growing at an exciting pace and there is no looking back.

Can you explain the concept of 'image consultancy' and its role in personality development?

Image consultancy guides a person through the domain of Appearance, Behaviour and Communication. In terms of appearance, we take into account an individual's identity, body design and purpose. Using colour analysis as a tool, we enable an individual to leverage the psychology of colours and extend it in the way they represent themselves. The colours we choose are not only best suited to the clients' skin tone and personality but also represent different messages like power, approachability etc.

Body and Length analysis helps the client understand their body design. Utilised mostly for women, this tells them about their body shape, things to embrace and styles to avoid. Further, it goes beyond the basic camouflage tips of wearing black to a conversation that enables them to be a lot more comfortable with their appearance.
How do you charge clients and what kind of individual clients do you cater to?

Our leads are generated via our website and we work towards closing them there. We also provide subsidised rates for referrals from past clients. We charge clients on the basis of a customised package they opt for. For individuals, it starts from Rs15,000 and for corporates, Rs 20,000. But for a corporate, the revenue model will depend on the batch size and the modules they are looking at.

We work with a lot of corporate clients from across domains ranging from telecommunication to hospitality. We also have students and women returning to work after a break. We offer sessions on personal branding, professional presence, cultural diversity, etiquette and communications.

Is image consultancy synonymous with grooming?

An image consultant's work comprises of grooming but goes beyond that. This is an important domain, especially in a globalised world when you know you could, say, be interacting with expatriate clients or a partner who is very well groomed. If you hail from a small town and are keen on working in a metropolis, it helps to acquaint yourself with the required body language and etiquette.

We get all kinds of people, from someone looking at career growth or a jump in their job, to senior-level executives like CFOs and CMOs. Every individual who works for them is a value factor. So companies want to make sure their brand ambassadors represent their image and philosophy. We don't use a cookie-cutter approach but treat each individual as such and help them develop a signature style.

Apart from individual clients, you conduct workshops for corporate clients. What kind of lessons do you impart?
Again, this depends on the purpose of the client. From someone who wants to make sure their body language conveys a positive message, to people who find it difficult to create an impactful first impression, to someone who lacks rapport-building skills, we help them overcome these and other challenges. Even extremely skilled individuals have little or no training in the way they should represent themselves. Also, senior profiles, where the work requires a lot of traveling… we help these professionals maintain a capsule wardrobe so that visual appearance becomes the least of their problems, even when travelling for extended periods.

Body language, rapport building and etiquette are some finer aspects of non-verbal communication that we help our clients fine tune. From understanding what a certain gesture indicates to techniques that help them build better relationships at work, we guide them through each module on the basis of needs, purpose and industry. We also train them in etiquette and cross-cultural training (depending on the culture they are exposed to).

Is there any anecdote you could share with us from your interaction with clients?

There was this employee who actually asked me if I could help him change his complexion! There are a lot of questions and different levels of curiosity that people have about their appearance and it gives us immense satisfaction to help them.
Whom do you admire and why?

Personally, I admire Kiran Bedi for her sense of personal branding and Kiran Majumdar Shaw for her consistency.
What are your plans and lessons learnt?

In the next few years, we will expand our brand into categories that relate to lifestyle. We are also working on creating an Image Consultant Network which will help bring together talent from across India. There are never any failures but only learnings. There is also a calculated risk you take. If you are passionate about something, it will work out in the end.

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