In an age of mass production and chaotic globalisation, brand and image along with value-driven services are everything. As an individual or corporate organisation, how does one incorporate brand perception and image identity in various activities? An elegant and experienced mind, says the answer is simple and profitable – for more than a decade, she has been helping individuals and organisations find a balance between their identity and service delivery that reflect values, ethics and etiquettes. Yetunde Bankole-Bernard is the go-to person. Starting with her PGL Image Consulting, she now runs “The Yetunde Bernard Company’’ as Chief Coaching Officer (CCO). Bernard speaks with Omolola Itayemi about her RECALL concept and why every brand and personality needs to key into it

What is ‘The Yetunde Bernard Company’ all about?
It is an organisation set up specifically to work with individuals and business owners that desire to harness their distinct message and craft. In the process of doing this, we help to refine that distinct image by projecting it for maximum influence and impact globally.

Why are image consultants referred to as image school owners or etiquette school owners?
On the contrary, we are image consultants that offer bespoke services ranging from corporate image solutions to Individual image services. Yes, we do share some similarities in our belief in bringing back old manners such as respect, regard for elders and using the magic words ‘please’, ‘sorry’, ‘excuse me’ which is all part of a good image.

How did your business evolve?
My former partner and I had always been friends; we met in school (university of Lagos) and bonded. I was in my last year studying Insurance while she was in her second year, reading Economics. We lived in the same hall in school and developed a life-long friendship. Years after, while  ruminating over the shoddy customer service from front-desk staff and the poor image perception of a good number of high-profile individuals and organisations, the  idea to form an image consulting firm was birthed. It’s not just about dressing. It involves etiquette, protocol; what should be done and what shouldn’t be done. We started PGL and there’s been no regret. We cannot overemphasise the impact of image on people and what it communicates, especially in these modern times where the world is fast becoming a global village.
As image consultants, we are focused on positive impact, one organisation at a time, one person at a time; in effect, we build a nation. We did this by assisting business executives and leaders, public figures, celebrities and discerning individuals to hone their impression management skills and professional presence, through visual, verbal and non-verbal communication, etiquette, and protocol expertise in order to build an authentic image. We made use of coaching, psychology and other tools to achieve phenomenal results. We worked with diverse individuals and corporate bodies like Access Bank, CakesByTosan, The Catalyst, Nigerian Interbank Settlement system (NIBSS), Lagos State Government, TFOLC Career Development Agency, Loyola Secondary School, National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and several others on identity, leadership and mentoring, self-awareness, social abilities and brand personality development. But my partner had to relocate and that gave birth to Yetunde Bernard Company, (YBC).

What was your first seminar like?
My former partner and I had addressed crowds individually before on different levels but not a big crowd. It wasn’t strange but there were a few jitters, but we knew we had to get it right after putting ourselves out there. We had a certain number in mind and we had more than a full house at the end of the day. It turned out fine and we also realised there was so much more we could contribute to the society. It was a wow time for me with the realisation that I was sitting on this wealth of information and there was a need to come out of my shell and make a difference – and that was what happened.

How will you describe yourself and how has the enterprise been doing?
Yetunde Bankole-Bernard is a New York City-trained relationship, style and image coach and a corporate image consultant, trained in Las Vegas. I practised understanding of brand perception that is identity creation and image projection as well as excellent communication proficiencies functioning in different capacities in the Nigerian marketing communications industry. It has not been a tea party because I have had to hone my skills at different blue-chip companies that require the best from you. My time at TPT Lagos and EXP Nigeria enabled me to gain core competencies in public and media relations, event planning and management, brand activation/ experiential marketing and sponsorship leveraging.
Over the course of my career, I worked closely with organisations like BAT (British American Tobacco), Unilever, Nigerian Breweries, MTN, and Nokia to mention a few. I am a certified MBTI practitioner from CAPT. Florida and popularly called, ‘the identity coach’. I have been privileged to speak and serve on various youth intervention/rehabilitation and women empowerment initiatives.

Lifestyle coaching is a relatively new sub-sector for companies and individuals. Is the acceptance level improving?
Lifestyle coaching addresses one’s personal and/or corporate life and the obstacles faced daily, proffering solutions through a personalised and introspective action plan to improve the life of the individual. There are times in everyday living when we lose focus of what is most important; and at certain other times we encounter challenges that knock us off our feet and most likely stand in the way of our goals and aspirations.  Lifestyle coaching provides the guidance needed during these phases of life, helping individuals to clarify, prioritise and then focus on ways to live productively. Inasmuch as this is a relatively new sub sector, quite a number of companies and individuals are responding positively. Failings, challenges, aspirations and triumphs are human experiences common to us all. Life coaching provides the opportunity to make choices that create a more balanced and fulfilling life personally or professionally.

Why should personal branding matter to individuals looking for jobs?
Establishing an image for yourself and creating an impression in the minds of those you come across is what personal branding entails. When looking to employ, every organisation is really concerned about the same thing – value. I have to be convinced of your ability to add value before I can commit my affairs to you. This even goes beyond seeking for a job. The catch here is that you must first place a value on yourself and be willing to go the extra mile in your journey of self-discovery and development before you can even expect to attract external interest, admiration or validation.
Personal branding is an ongoing process of establishing an impression or perception in the minds of others about yourself. While it includes putting yourself together in a way that presents you in a good light; proper communication skills, protocol and etiquette, dress and grooming; it runs much deeper than that. Beyond job seeking; in day-to-day interactions, you are constantly selling yourself. Whether it’s an idea, indication of an interest, a promise of a relationship, a job or a product, the same principle applies. You have to be able to effectively define your potential for creating value in this world; that is, for making a contribution that comes naturally from the core of your being and touches the lives of others in positive ways.  That is identity. Knowing who you are, identifying your core characteristics and what value you bring should be the bedrock of ‘personal branding’. It is irrespective of whether you’re selling yourself to an employer, potential father-in-law or a client. You cannot fully express yourself if you have not taken time to discover your essence and difference. That is what I call your ‘memorability factor’.

How much opportunity exists for graduates going into the identity creation and image projection sector?
I believe that opportunities can be found everywhere but it all depends on how you look at it. An opportunity could be staring at you right in the face and there’s still a high chance of missing it if you’re not walking in the consciousness of that reality. To a large extent, passion and interest drives what we see. Just like many other specialties, matters of identity creation and image projection require a high level of interest, determination and passion. Beyond all that is something that comes from a place of ‘knowing’. Again, I am back to the subject of identity. You thrive in your place of gifting and natural ability. Find that place. Stay there.

How can one then find their identity and how does this influence productivity?
Just as it is common to ask or place a demand when you want something, the first step to self-discovery is to inquire into your own character, interests, values and beliefs. It is a journey of self-assessment. When you are able to understand and accept yourself, you will make better choices and decisions. This ultimately makes you more deliberate, effective and productive. My work over the last 12 years in the marketing communications industry has given birth to RECALL: the identity coaching tool for those beginning or at a new beginning. It is a workbook, journal and audio CD that will help anyone seeking clarity for their identity and talents. It also provides practical solutions on how to create productivity platforms from these natural abilities.

How can unemployed graduates enhance their interpersonal relationship skills when going for interviews?
It is important to note that interviews or any scenario for that matter is transient. Human connection is a constant. The ability to understand yourself, your personality, your values, social and communication style, idiosyncrasies, whims and caprices places you in a position of authority where you are able to determine your responses to others. It helps you also to be more tolerant of others giving that you are not without a fault. Acceptance of self precedes acceptance of others. We are able to listen better and allow difference of opinions without being judgmental. Now that does not necessarily mean we become a push-over. It simply means that we are able to become better communicators by listening; better friends by showing ourselves friendly; create positive impressions by being comfortable in our skin and not trying too hard to impress. We are more considerate and respectful when we are at peace with self. This breeds true confidence, which in itself endears people to us. For the purpose of this particular question, however, I’d consider two things. The first: practise and perfect the art of being ‘present’ in your interactions. Be aware of the other person and what they are trying to communicate. Listen with your senses. Listen for that which is not being said. You should be able to tell, for instance, if you’re talking too much or too little if you are truly present in a conversation. You will notice the other person’s body language, eye movement, hand gestures and the like. Second, relax and be comfortable – smile. Take your time and answer thoughtfully. It is just an interview to determine if you’re suitable or not. It is better to carefully consider what is being said than blurting out something you are not sure about.

Is there a relationship between personal/corporate branding and job creation?
Branding entails establishing an image for yourself and creating an impression in the minds of those who interact with you, while Job creation is the process of providing jobs for the unemployed. Though it is not the branding that creates the job, the interesting thing is that they work hand in hand – branding, whether it is personal or corporate enables visibility and creates room for the unemployed.