Editor's note: Benefits Selling's Broker of the Year finalists will be revealed Monday-Friday this week. Meet our fifth and final finalist.
Talk to Robert J. Russell for a short amount of time and it's obvious he's not like other benefits brokers and agents. For starters, he sells more than just benefits packages — he's into real estate in Florida and Texas. He also produces and hosts an internet radio show. And, he's a one-man, do-it-yourself agency.
But the most visible instance of how Russell is different is his image. Literally, his image.
While most benefits professionals include a formal portrait in their print and online advertisements, Russell instead uses a caricature of himself. It's one of the ways Russell illustrates how he's different from his competitors — and to communicate to potential clients that he does things differently from the rest of the pack.
“Back in 1988, I was looking for different things to do in advertising,” Russell explains. “I was doing TV and billboards and radio. Someone tried to sell me something and said I needed to do this because every insurance agent is doing it. I said, ‘Hold it. I don't want to do something everyone else does. Come back to me when you have something different from everyone else.’ I want to do things different from everyone else. That's why I use a caricature instead of a photo. My wife said no one would take me seriously, and she might be right, but at least they’ll remember me.”
Russell's desire to take the road less traveled has served him well over the course of his career. His business — Robert J. Russell Cos. of Flower Mound, Texas — started off in 1985 catering to traditional group clients. But over the years, Russell expanded his offerings, branched out into other areas and took his business online. Now, he oversees 10 websites with plans to expand his online presence even further.
In today's benefits market, Russell focuses on phone and internet sales — the last time he visited someone's house was in 1998, he says. Even though he might not be in front of people, he's pushing his services into the realm of social media.
“I’m asked to visit companies and talk about how to integrate your business into social media,” he says. “I think social media is where it's at. And if you’re not in it, you’re lost.”
Licensed in Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina, with plans to expand into Florida, Virginia and California, the 53-year-old Russell sells life, auto, homeowner's, health, dental, disability and vision insurance products. He obtained his real estate license 15 years ago and guides many of his clients on how to borrow against their life insurance policy for a down payment on a home. The strategy has helped his clients realize the American dream of home ownership — and the value of a life insurance policy.
While many brokers and agents invest heavily in outside help with their business, Russell says he's arrived where he is by doing it himself — and he wouldn't have it any other way.
“I do everything on my own; I even cut my own hair,” Russell says. “Why pay someone something you can do yourself?”