Desire Peterkin Bell, based just outside of New York, is an award-winning and globally recognized public relations practitioner, brand builder, and strategist. She has worked with some of the most powerful politicians in the country, including former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Michael A. Nutter, and Mayor Cory Booker, for over two decades. Desiree started DPBell & Associates, a full-service Public Affairs firm, in 2016 after a rewarding career in several government jobs.
Desiree began her career in Indianapolis under former Mayor Bart Peterson after graduating as a National Urban Fellow with a Master’s in Public Administration. She focused on problems such as community participation, education, strategic governance, affordable housing, and economic development throughout her time there. Following the horrific repercussions of 9/11, Desiree Peterkin Bell returned to her homeland of New York City, accepting a post as the Bloomberg Administration’s Supervising Legislative Representative.
She successfully advocated for the passage of the New York City Smoke-Free Air Act of 2002, Tort Reform, and the Film Tax Credit, three landmark pieces of legislation. Desiree eventually rose through the ranks of NYC Marketing’s marketing development business to become Vice President of Government Affairs. She worked with companies like Universal Studios, General Motors, the Latin Grammys, and the Country Music Awards to gain multi-million dollar sponsorships for the city.
Desiree Peterkin Bell became the Director of Communication for the Booker Administration in Newark, New Jersey, in 2006. She would go on to develop an award-winning twenty-first-century communications network that spanned platforms and is credited with the rise of Cory Booker’s tremendous social media presence as the team’s youngest senior official. The New Jersey League of Municipalities honored her work with the administration by naming the city’s Office of Communications the “Best City Office of Communications in New Jersey.”
Desiree’s experience in public affairs has made her a communications, public relations, brand building, and crisis management expert. DPBell & Associates’ success can be attributed in part to her and her team’s ability to remain calm in the face of adversity and implement effective initiatives. During the public feud between Cory Booker and Conan O’Brien, Desiree headed the production team and the digital reaction. Her handling of the matter resulted in millions of impressions for the Mayor of Newark and his Administration’s good impact on the community.
Desiree Peterkin Bell and her agency are prepared to respond in a culture where catastrophes can occur at any time. They recently collaborated with H Code, a LatinX digital brand, and the city of Los Angeles to develop a multi-platform campaign with culturally relevant content to educate and encourage Latinx people to get COVID-19 testing. DPBell & Associates, which is run by women and minorities, works with causes, movements, and businesses that they believe in to affect positive change and growth in society on a national and international level.
Desiree felt that the only way to get control over her life and experiences was via education after a sequence of bad circumstances left her family homeless in a battered women’s shelter. She devoted all of her attention and effort to academics from that day forward. When she was in seventh grade, a school counselor told her that she could take the SATs and be accepted to boarding school if she passed them.
Desiree Peterkin Bell was accepted to two top boarding schools after passing the exam with flying colors. Regardless of how simple the test was for her, her time at school was stressful. The girl wanted to see if “the black came off” after waking up one night to see another young woman standing over her and caressing her hand. Desiree, who was terrified, pushed the girl away, defending herself.
Unfortunately, as is so frequently the case in our culture, Desiree took the brunt of the consequences, regardless of the situation’s cause. She was escorted out of the school. However, thanks to the A Better Chance Program, they were able to find her a new school. Desiree traveled to Wallingford, Pennsylvania, on a scholarship and spent four years at the ABC’s Girls House. That period of her life was formative, awakening her to a slew of societal concerns including, but not limited to, privilege and racism.
Those early experiences, which have the potential to split us in two, usually become the fuel that propels us down our chosen road in life. Desiree Peterkin Bell had a similar experience. They bolstered her determination and instilled in her a desire to make a positive difference in the world.
Desiree went to Swarthmore College after graduating from high school, where she majored in Political Science and Education and was a standout athlete. She got the Dean’s Award for extraordinary community involvement and academic accomplishment upon graduation.
Desiree Peterkin Bell’s next step was law school. However, she soon found herself in the midst of a self-diagnosed quarter-life crisis. She was having professional success, but she had never been more unhappy in her life. She went back to school for a Master’s in Public Administration after receiving a full scholarship from the National Urban Fellows Program.
The fellowship led to an appointment in former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson’s administration. Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg all benefited from the career move, which led to a string of successful posts in local governments and notable institutions.
Multiple accolades have been given to her for her efforts to these nations. Furthermore, she is credited with the emergence of Cory Booker’s substantial social media presence, which contributed to his entry into the 2020 Presidential Election. Desiree Peterkin Bell has received recognition from PR Week’s “40 Under 40,” the Philadelphia Tribune, where she was designated one of the city’s most significant African American women, Black Enterprise as a “triple threat,” and even a “Shorty Award.”
Desiree left public administration in 2016 to pursue a career in public relations, launching her own full-service firm. DPBell & Associates serves both international and domestic clients from its offices across the world. Their strategies are battle-tested and purpose-driven with Desiree at the lead.
Desiree Peterkin Bell is dedicated in mentoring the future generation, particularly young women of color, because she recognizes that she drinks deeply from wells she did not dig herself. For Desiree, who realized at a young age that discomfort was the only way to grow, she works hard to ensure that young women with similar situations have the resources they need to find resilience and strength. She is a founder member of the Simmons Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting students in achieving their educational and self-sufficiency aspirations.
She has clawed her way to the top as a Black woman who was born without many resources to build with, constantly fighting for the underdog. She’s on a mission to bring justice to the world. She is fighting for those who are considered helpless by the system. While Desiree makes every effort to keep her personal and professional lives distinct, she confesses that her actions are driven by her role as a mother. She is trying to make the world a better, more equitable place for her daughter’s generation.
Desiree Peterkin Bell believes that no matter what life throws at you, whether you’re a brown woman or just someone carrying the usual burden of life, you have been given the resources to make a difference. She believes that having a voice gives you meaning, regardless of where you are in life, and that purpose leads to power. Allow Desiree to assist you in finding your voice.
Where did the idea for DPBell & Associates come from?
I have honed skills in Public Relations, Crisis Communications, Marketing, Policy, Content Development, Large-scale high-level events and in entertainment for over 25 years. DPBell & Associates is a culmination of the battle tested and award-winning strategies employed over the years. Just like me, my team is steeped in impact and driven by purpose, not position. We work with movements, not moments, brands that matter and we work with people who want to make a difference. We
– Represent international and national clients, brands, politicians, and world leaders
-Cultivate and build relationships with thousands of leading international and national publications, podcasts, bloggers, and social media influencers
-Own relationships and manage networks throughout the United States and Abroad
-Develop award-winning Public Affairs strategies that make an impact
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There is no typical day. But each day I wake up focused, trying to make a difference in my community and the world, for my daughter. I am a mother, a wife, and an entrepreneur and I have strived to live a life driven by purpose despite my position(s). I haven’t always gotten things right. For example, it took a shake to my core to reveal I had been creating brands for men in politics and their families, before even being fully present for my own. My life has come with many lessons, but the greatest lesson thus far for me has been to let my daughter see me be vulnerable, uncomfortable, fail, and get right back up.
I have often been the youngest, brownest, only female at a decision-making table in politics and government for over 25 years. And trust me when I tell you, it has not been easy. Politics is a full contact sport. An industry often susceptible to people driven by ego, grandstanding and protecting their legacy, you can run against considerable roadblocks trying to make a difference and impact. But the obstacles and those who have been tunneled vision opportunist, hasn’t stopped my desire, or my drive to help change the world. Being driven by purpose and not position means that I operate to make an impact in the world and my community and I’m driven by that every day. I don’t chase titles, accolades, or roles. I chase impact.
I wake up every day wanting my daughter’s world to be better. I keep a journal of all the things I believe will help my daughter succeed in life, these are the issue areas I work on. Whether it’s fighting for her safety in school or outside; marching to make sure she doesn’t become a police brutality statistic; advocating for investments in clean water and climate change; encouraging investments in healthy food choices; advocating for qualified diverse representation on the Supreme Court or in The White House; lobbying for her right to choose what she can do with her body or when the time comes making sure that she has the right to love and be with whoever she wants to be with and most importantly that she can live the life promised to her under the constitution of these United States with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. This is why I work and why I do the work I do.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I start always with what kind of impact am I trying to make and whose lives will be impacted for the better. For example, my Global Chat and Chew series started out as an attempt to foster greater communications among women and others. I recognize that I drink deeply from wells I did not dig. My passion and purpose is to seed this generation for the next, just like the generations that have paved the way for me through sacrifice, sweat, sometimes death, and many tears. Over the next three years, with a focus on a robust plan to increase our Chat and Chews series Globally in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America, with the continued theme of “Purpose, Not Position.” Over the past several years, I have also gathered big brands, national and foreign leaders, and everyday people from around the world for dinners with a theme of ‘Purpose, not Position’. Creating an open environment with different kinds of people in a space that is safe has allowed varying levels of conversation to take place, voices to be heard, and opinions to be explained. In the end, every single person leaves the table having learned something new, with a renewed sense of purpose and perspective and more heart.
I have held these dinners in various cities across the country and in places like India, Tel Aviv, and London. We have had CEOs, activists, artists, elected officials, mothers, sons, daughters, fathers at our tables breaking bread together.
I Create Movements from Moments.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery created an inflection point in this country that illuminated the systemic racism within the criminal justice system, and society as a whole.
In 2020, I worked on translating the protest from the streets to making legislation impact in the chamber and creating a movement that challenged traditional policing methods and demanded new reforms.
I worked with Delegate Aird, the youngest and boldest delegate in Va. to strategize the passage of “no knock” warrant legislation. Working with and talking to police from across the country, advocates, and community leaders, I helped to ensure Breonna’s Law was passed.
In a bi-partisan vote on October 14th, HB 5099, the “No-Knock” bill, was passed by the Virginia General Assembly. On October 28th, Governor Northam signed HB 5099 into law for the State of Virginia.
On December 7th, with Breonna Taylor’s family and attorney Benjamin Crump present, Governor Northam publicly signed Breonna’s Law, making Virginia the first state to ban no-knock warrants in response to Breonna Taylor’s death. More than making national headlines, this legislation opened a larger conversation about needed police reforms.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Trends do excite me because they are often fleeting. What excites me is making an impact, in my community, the country, and globally. Being driven by impact allows me to focus on things that matter, not things that trend. Trends are tik tok dance, a hashtag without a plan of execution about how to change things for the better. Trends allow people to pretend to care, to pretend to want to be involved without having to sacrifice their real-time, attention, and resources to make something happen.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
As a Black woman, Business owner, and entrepreneur, one of the most important ways for me to be productive is to have peace of mind and calm. As a Black person in America as James Baldwin has so eloquently stated, “To be Black in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” in 2020 America went through a global pandemic but also a racial reckoning. Black Lives Matter became a catchphrase for many, while a reality and a serious statement of purpose for the rest of us. So finding my center every morning is a necessity for the work that I do, finding a quiet place to pray, find peace and be still.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t allow the severe insecurity of others to impede progress and don’t give your loyalty away to just anyone. Your loyalty is unmatched and is priceless.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Caviar serves no purpose.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Write your “why”. There is freedom and power in entrepreneurship but it isn’t easy. There are often no days off. You don’t get paid for sick days, or when life just happens – you have to constantly be in the right frame of reference to understand your “why”. Why did you get started? What kind of impact do you hope, want, and wish to make.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Please explain how. Surrounding yourself with people who have the same level of intensity, interest, and focus to reach a goal. We have talented, battle-tested associates across the country and some globally who are all committed not just to the task at hand but doing it with integrity, in a collaborative way, and having a lasting impact. Getting the work right is part of it as an entrepreneur but having the right people around you to help you do it is a gift.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Not chasing the money. In 2020, my team and I were hired by a handful of corporate execs to implement Diversity and Inclusion strategies. For some, it was clear they were impacted not by change but by a “trend” and were only interested in how things appeared and not in making any real impact in their teams or companies about increasing or even defining Diversity and Inclusion. My team and I had to make several hard choices to turn the money away because these companies were not interested in any real change. The lesson was not all money is good money.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This is funny. I am not in the position to give away free business ideas. Will I be credited, Not kidding, as a Black woman, an entrepreneur of color we often have to protect our ideas in ways others don’t have to because our work is often stolen by larger companies or brands? So my business idea for Black businesses specifically, 1) Draft the Right Agreements at the Beginning and 2)
Create a Legal Entity and Register Your Marks.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A cashmere throw from a young Black fashion student trying to make ends meet. Originally purchased to support the student, glad I did, the sweater’s vibrant colors make me feel invincible when I wear it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Canva is a staple for us, it allows us to instantaneously create pitch decks, flyers for marches or events, and compelling visuals.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Strategize to Win, by Carla A. Harris
Wall Street veteran Carla Harris knows this, and in Strategize to Win, she gives readers the tools they need to get started; get “unstuck” from bad situations; redirect momentum, and position themselves to manage their careers no matter the environment.
What is your favorite quote?
I have two, both are by Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” and “There is a kind of strength that is almost frightening in black women. It’s as if a steel rod runs right through the head down to the feet.”
- Determine your “why” as an entrepreneur and then commit to making an impact in the world. We all have a purpose in this world, regardless of our position, make it count.
- Take risks, stand up for what you believe. When the country was reckoning with racial injustice, my team and I created a movement from moments working with political leaders, C-suite execs, and the legislature to address diversity and Inclusion and change laws.
- We are living in peculiar times, when sitting on the sidelines just isn’t going to cut it anymore. You have a voice, use it. Don’t let anyone silence you. No one can take your power you are a force to be reckoned with.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.