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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shaping That Vote-Winning Look

Courtesy Of Image ContactAlexei Sitnikov of Image Contact agency
What do you do if you are a provincial mayor with a suit Brezhnev would have spurned, a bad hair day every day and a deep desire to be a success in Moscow and the West?

Self-help books may be a cheaper option, but increasingly, politicians and businessman are turning to professional consultants for advice on what to wear and how to speak, whether that be in order to get re-elected, gain influence or make friends in high places.

Experts say that merely dressing up clients and brushing their teeth is not enough to give them a winning look.

"The image is the last thing, the frame for the picture," said Larisa Isayeva, a stylist at Image Contact agency, which coached Naina Yeltsin during Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign for president in 1996. One of its more recent successes was the election of Sergei Darkin as governor of the Primorye region.

"You can't just go to a good hairdresser and a good shop and then run for the presidency," Isayeva said.

The image has to be linked to the purpose. As a stylist, Isayeva was at first appalled at what Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov wore, but she finally realized that his presentation was in line with the image he wanted to portray: that of an active manager who builds roads and gets dirty to help the city.

With 500 employees, Image Contact is one of the local public-relations industry's biggest consultancies, with various departments offering help in such areas as team-building, speechwriting, crisis training, election analysis and psychotherapy.

Another leader in the field is the Niccolo M consultancy, which helped 49 deputies enter parliament in 2000 and worked on the Mongolian presidential election last year.

In 1996, Niccolo M worked on Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign and considered getting Yeltsin to wear glasses. A pair was chosen after consultations with eyewear experts, but the plan was later ditched. Although Yeltsin looked wise, "like a professor," according to Niccolo M's PR director, Andrei Birukov, he lost the fighter image that his election campaign needed.

Style consultants say there are some basic principles that can be taught to anyone.

"Some businessmen don't know what to do with their hands, legs, head," said Birukov. "They don't know how to sit."

Others insist on wearing their favorite color on television.

"If a lady likes red, it is prohibited," said Birukov, who said it looks bad on television and is "a message of aggression and danger."

Other tips are to avoid wearing white shirts for television appearances as the white color will flare up, and women should change their makeup gradually during the day, from minimal in the morning to medium at lunch and heavy in the evening.

Alexei Sitnikov of Image Contact estimated that about 65 percent to 70 percent of demand was from politicians, but said the relationship between big business and politics was such that it was becoming difficult to separate the two.

The image and help a client needs depends on his or her position. For a local election, it may take a few months' work to prepare campaign staff for a candidate, canvass the electorate, examine the candidate's target audience, coordinate the advertising campaign and choose the image best suited for the election and the candidate

"It's better that a person has no image at all," said Sitnikov, so the consultants can create something from scratch.

For a businessman eager to develop a reputation in the West, consultants will usually have to work longer than a few months, perhaps even a few years.

"Top managers are trying to establish their own image in the West," said Sitnikov. "In the West, some imagine that every Russian is mafia. Everyone is trying to avoid this stamp."

Sitnikov says the most important thing is that clients learn how to be at ease and accepted in the West and not stick out like sore thumbs. This can mean lessons in jokes, styles of behavior -- how to act at the races or at a golf club -- and conversational standbys such as knowledge of what is in the tabloid newspapers.

"We do the same for our provincial politicians when they come to Moscow so they can be accepted into Moscow society," said Sitnikov.

Consultants will advise a politician on how to dress, Sitnikov said, whether it be a provincial politician who needs to dress up when coming to Moscow, or a Muscovite who needs to dress down for a trip to the provinces. After all, as Birukov said, it may not be right for a politician to wear a $40,000 Rolex if he's going to the provinces.