Building Personal Brands Starts With Being 'Real'

John Bell VP Enterprise Digital Marketing, Travelers

Posted on June 21st 2009

I was in a bad mood last week. I get tired of the over-promotion of social media (e.g. "you must engage in a conversation with your customers and I'm just the guru to help you with that...) as much as the attempt to "leverage" social media from segments of the marketing community (e.g. "can't we just use it as a content channel...") I had also been away from my family for a bit so that might have had something to do with it....

Then I got a much needed reminder from a man I had only known digitally.

Stream Breakfast NYC

Jeff Pulver and I came together to host a Stream Breakfast in NYC via WPP. (Stream is WPP's digital conference and community that culminates in a Yossi Vardi-fueled unconference every Fall). We spoke with about 25 or so marketers within WPP about personal branding. I referred to some of the ways people much craftier than I are managing their digital brand via Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter, their blogs and more. I referenced our own Rohit Bhargava who appears to be intuitive in his ability to breath social media and build his brand (he actually works hard at it). All very practical stuff.

But it was Jeff who reminded me and the others about being real and offering something of yourself to others. He shared some very personal stories quite casually about growing up to use ham radios and his immediate experience with volunteers showing up via a tweet to help with the grunt work of 140conf. His suggestion to the crowd that morning was to be 'real' in whcih I think he meant both be yourself and be generous. There is no reason to build a brand based upon a false sense of who you are.

He listened as much as he spoke. And he offered me a personal insight about being self aware that really made me think. I immediately felt relief. Being real and connecting via social media has opened up my life in ways I cannot describe. I have met people in all parts of the world who I will always think about and hope to connect with again and again.

Jeff gave me a literal and figurative 'hug' when I most needed it.       


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John Bell

VP Enterprise Digital Marketing, Travelers


I head up Enterprise Digital Marketing at Travelers. Just as Travelers anticipates the needs of personal and business insurance customers in an ever-changing world, we approach marketing differently. The customer journey has changed. To meet these new behaviors, we put data-driven content, digital marketing and social engagement at the heart of marketing.  


Previously, I developed, grew and ran Ogilvy’s global, social media solutions practice – Social@Ogilvy.  The world’s largest network of social media and business strategists, the team believes in the power and impact of truly integrated social media business solutions. I drove senior client engagements, the development of Ogilvy’s social planning framework, and a global training program for staff and clients, alike. Our work  combines deep disciplines like crm, public relations, advertising and shopper marketing and rooted in what drives behavior.  

I have developed and executed enterprise social media strategy for the Ford Motor Company, Nestle, IBM, Coca Cola, and DuPont - including work winning a Silver Lion at Cannes.  I launched a single brand Facebook initiative in 20+ countries, helped telcos in Australia and Greece adopt social care and marketing and consulted with consumer goods marketers in Turkey. 

Discovery Communications

Discovery Channel was one of the first media properties to really experiment with the Web. I was brought in as Creative Director to transform a single Web site into a network of 14 Web properties known as We had live, online expeditions from the field. Reporters posted stories, audio and video from Australia in search of giant spiders and from the bottom of the ocean where they explored the Titanic wreckage for the first time. All while the events were happening.  I designed and built online experiences for TLC, Animal Planet, Discovery Kids, Discovery Health, Travel Channel not to mention a host of digital TV network sites and global sites.

AT&T, Viacom & Media Circus

The first wave of innovation was Interactive Television (iTV) in 1990.  I headed up the Visual Design Studio at Downtown Digital, a joint venture between Viacom and AT&T to create the most futuristic vision of interactive television anyone could imagine. I created programming for kids, gamers, and fully interactive applications for Paramount Studios and Entertainment Tonight.  This model of set-top box delivered interactivity remains a vision for all iTV innovation.

I created the first Interactive Advertisement for American Express during that ITV trial. Then, as a founding member and Creative Director, I formed Media Circus Interactive Advertising in New York during the 1990's. We created award-winning CD-ROMs including designing the first interactive advertisement on Launch, then a CD-ROM zine, for Sony. I also designed the first I-Spy CD-ROM for Scholastic extending the brand into the electronic space and pushing the limits of what an interactive experience could be. At the same time the Internet was exploding. I designed and built complicated transaction sites for Gateway Computers and wild experiments like MTV’s Web service that connected “stringers” all across the country reporting on the music scene in their community (sound a bit like blogging? It should and the year was 1995).

Charlex, M&Co. and RGA

My early career was in television design and production. I literally grew up at Charlex, a design and production company, producing some of the most artful and innovative television commercials and pioneering the use of complex blue and green screen effects. I count Alex Weil as a huge influence as well as Tibor Kalman. Tibor ran M&Co. (and  was CD at Interview Magazine) and taught me what it really means to be a Creative Director. We produced his first moving media designs including a design prototype for Godfather III titles using a vacuuform machine. I produced complex, design-based television commercials with RGA and learned a tremendous amount from Robert Greenberg and, at that time, Executive Producer Andy Arkin.   

I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in European history and spent a lot of time at the Annenberg School of Communications.I loved Philly and worked at an innovative, post-punk restaurant - the Knave of Hearts - on South Street.  

Memberships & Affiliations

  • I served on the board as past president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)
  • I currently serve on the Advisory Panel for Social Media Today
  • I served on the advisory board to PBS Engage at
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Posted on June 21st 2009 at 4:37PM
no dream + no hope + no faith + no integrity + no passion + no trust + no love = NO AUTHENTIC PERSONAL BRANDING ..