Many years ago I was invited as a young entrepreneur to attend the first entrepreneurial convention in the European Parliament in Brussels. One evening during a dinner for some of the British delegates I met a retired gentlemen who was a representative and volunteer for a leading British entrepreneur charity where we had an in depth conversation on the subject of image. He recalled for me his first job as a young apprentice in the 1940’s in journalism, where on arriving for his first day at work he was sent to the Editors office, on Bond Street.
Principle One; Image matters.
I waited patiently for over an hour in the Editors reception, only to be instructed by the secretary that I was to spend the day standing on the corner of Bond Street, with one clear instruction “to people watch”, and not to return until the end of the day.
At the end of the day I returned to the Editors office where the secretary told me to go home and return the next day.
The next day I returned to his office as instructed and waited patiently. Finally the editor appeared in the reception instructing his secretary that he would be back in 30 minutes, at that the Editor turned and nodded and gestured for me to follow him. As he walked briskly downstairs and out onto Bond Street he asked:
‘So George, what did you learn yesterday? ‘
Nervously, I answered ‘There’s a lot of people on Bond Street.’
The editor took me to the corner of Bond Street and stepping backwards into the recess of a closed door way asked ‘What do you see, George?’
Before you start any career in journalism the most valuable lesson I can teach you is this;
‘People can tell you a million things without uttering a single word, and if you want to learn one of the most valuable communication tools in life and master journalism, you must first learn how to read people. Many stories can be told by our appearance, clothing, grooming, posture, facial expressions; it communicates our personality, attitude, emotions, economical and social status, sophistication and success.”
He maintained that no matter what generation or culture you come from, whether you are standing on Bond Street in London, Time Square in New York. Even when standing in a room full of strangers or meeting someone for the first time before you open your mouth you have already told your story and firmly established that very important first impression rightly or wrongly.
Principle Two; Be honest with your customer, what is your company really about?
Consumers today are exceptionally image savvy. And due to the volume of subliminal marketing and advertising that we are bombarded with daily we are all acutely aware if the image being painted for us is false or incongruent with your brand and marketing message.
Many successful companies like Pixar Studios & Innocents (Health drinks) thrive because they are totally transparent and genuine about their priorities as a company. They realised from day one that there was no place for dress codes or uniforms because their organisation is primarily about self expression and creativity and serve their customers by ensuring the integrity of their creativity in every aspect of their business.
Other international companies i.e. Disney, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, UPS etc realise that a uniform and dress code must be executed precisely and is essential to their brand identity, company success and profitability- because their role is to serve the customers needs before their needs of the employee.
Clothing and image can be a very emotive issue for many people, because primarily it is a major part of self expression and personal identity. Secondly many of our clothing choices are made emotionally rather than rationally. When being honest about your company culture you have to face up to one of the biggest arguments and challenge which I have always had; addressing the balance between personal freedom of self expression which I passionately believe in and the lack of common sense where a strict disciplined image is essential in the workplace. Customers today expect and demand leadership, confidence and assertiveness from a company and brand.
21st Century & Image
First and foremost individuals must accept even in the 21st century there are clearly defined careers where their primary function and role is to serve the customer. Personal image and identity are irrelevant where a disciplined image, uniform and dress code are both essential and necessary to communicate authority, confidence, respect and maintain order & safety i.e. Police, Fire Service, Military, Immigration, Legal profession, Aviation etc.
A typical example is the case of the 70’s Air stewardess’s, who had been issued with overtly feminine uniforms with no authoritative value. Passenger’s lives were put at risk as well meaning male passenger’s put the air stewardess’s off the plane during an emergency crash landing leaving no one qualified & trained to get passengers safely off the plane.
A good professional image or uniform when executed correctly will convey authority and confidence it will also demand attention and respect in various roles of responsibility. Within these roles attention to details in dress code are essential the simplest bending of the rules can totally destroy the effectiveness of an otherwise very effective uniform.
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