How to Orchestrate a Personal Brand

Why Shelly Palmer is Fast Becoming the Martha Stewart of Digital Life

Four years ago, Shelly
Palmer was asked to stop pushing an “advanced media agenda” by the Emmy®
Awards Board of Governors after writing a book called “Television Disrupted”
that anticipated the transformation of network TV.  The son of Julliard-trained musicians and a composer/producer
himself, Shelly was not one to mope over a blown recital.  Instead, he gathered his instruments; forty
email addresses, some fellow digital enthusiasts, a lifetime of technical
innovations and started a project that focused on emerging media and what they
call a “digital life.”


900 business days later, the
Shelly Palmer brand is nearly ubiquitous. 
 He is on practically every
media platform from daily newsletters to radio, taxis to Facebook, websites to
books and a broadcast TV deal is in the works. His consulting practice is
highly lucrative and he gets paid to speak all over the world.  Shelly will tell you he’s been very
lucky, but after spending on hour on the phone interviewing him, I can assure
you luck has nothing to do with it. 
In fact, the success of Shelly Palmer is a beautifully conducted
symphony of marketing savvy, revealing a six-movement composition on how to  orchestrate a personal

1. Give Away the Melody 

The marketing cornerstone of
the Shelly Palmer brand is a daily email newsletter that now goes to a whopping
575,000 subscribers.  Noted Palmer,
“We take the 3-5 most interesting stories every day, distill them down,
contextualize them and try to add value.” Initially, these stories were
just provided as headlines, which encouraged readers to visit
to get the whole story and of course learn all about Shelly’s other
“products.”  This marketing as service approach led
readers to sing Shelly’s praises, for in a world of information overload, he helped
them “look like a genius to their bosses and less-informed colleagues every
day.”  By “relentlessly putting
something of value in people’s mailboxes,” Palmer stayed top of mind as a
potential speaker or consultant, like a pop tune you simply can’t shake. 

2. Beat Your Measures           

Well aware of the need to
acquire a steady stream of “customers” cost-effectively, Palmer and Co “took all
the available technology to promote a marketing circle.”  Email drove web traffic which drove
video plays which led to speaking engagements which led to consulting gigs and
so on. But unlike most start-ups, Palmer assigned dollar value metrics to all the
things you could do on his website even those without an immediate return.  For example, a newsletter subscriber
with a corporate email address was assigned a value of $4 since it would have
cost them that much to buy such a name. 
By carefully tracking everything from email open-rates, to website loyalty
and recency, to conversions, Palmer was also able to make informed improvements
over time.  On a side note, Palmer
castigated the use of website hits, calling them “how idiots track success.”

3. Try New Tunes


As a small company, Palmer
noted that “it was easy for us to test things and we tried a dozen different
experiments with radio, all of which we screwed up.”  Eventually they got it right, partnering with the United
States Radio Network, providing a daily Shelly Palmer Digital Life minute to
218 stations across the country. 
They also continued to refine their newsletter approach and recently
started providing the whole story instead of just headlines.  Added Palmer, “our website traffic
dropped off 50%, however, our conversion against product sales, speaking
engagements and email opens went double digit through the roof.”  This new approach also reflected
Palmer’s preference to “follow the road, not the map” by adjusting to changing
circumstances with savvy, speed and flexibility.    

4. Every Instrument is its Own
Art Form

Shelly Palmer cranks out a
remarkable 46 different pieces of content on a daily basis.  Knowing that his target expects a
consistent level of excellence regardless of the medium, very little of the
content is cookie cutter.  Palmer
offered, “You can’t repurpose physical media, you need to rebuild it for what
it is, radio can’t just be the audio from a video.”  The terse newsletter wouldn’t work as a video nor could it
translate into the longer-form thought leadership pieces Shelly writes weekly.  And this level of customization
continued with the emergence of social media. Added Palmer, “We were there
instantly, putting all our content in the form of questions in order to inspire
conversation.”  Since the Shelly
Palmer brand is only as strong as each individual communications, he and his
team take the time to make each component stand alone, an effort that other
marketers would be wise to emulate.

5. Find Your Voice

At one point when Palmer was
traveling, a substitute performed on his daily MediaBytes video.  The fans were not amused and hundreds
complained.  Thinking that his
brand was only about the high quality content that he and his team worked so
hard to deliver, Palmer suddenly realized that, “a huge part of what the Shelly
Palmer brand is–is Shelly Palmer.” 
He doesn’t say this as an egotist but rather with amused resignation
that he and the brand are one.  Fortunately
this role fits him like the fine suits he wears.  “I love to perform and I get a kick out of it when people
tell me that I’m a good speaker,” notes Palmer who is called to the lectern
over 50 times a year.  He also noted
that as a personal brand, “You gotta be in uniform and always assume you are
being watched—so I try to comport myself that way.” 

 6. Don’t Play Every House


When offering advice to
other small businesses, Palmer noted “I don’t take every consulting job–I only
take the ones that I can do great, make a lot of money for me and my clients
and when people learn that I did that, they say ‘Wow’.”  This approach sings volumes about
Palmer’s commitment to delivering a product that is of genuine value, whether
free or paid.  For his weekly
thought leadership article, Palmer imagines that he is writing it for a media
maven like Jeff Zucker, making sure he keeps it interesting and “wastes as
little time as possible.”  And
though Palmer acknowledges that his articles may be “superficially useful for
the less digitally literate,” there is always “code” for important digital
issues that will spark interest among his more sophisticated consulting

Final note: 
Shelly Palmer has been training for this role all his life, writing
music since he was four, filing for his first patent in his teens, attending
NYU film school, producing EMMY-award winning TV shows and composing over a
thousand pieces of music (including “Let’s Go Mets”) that are currently in use on TV or radio.  Like every great musician, Palmer knows
that he is only as good as his last performance, an understanding that is sure
to keep his brand pitch perfect for many years to come. 



About the author

Drew is the founder of Renegade, the NYC-based social media and marketing agency that helps inspired B2B and B2C clients cut through all the nonsense to deliver genuine business growth. A frequent speaker at ad industry events, Drew’s been a featured expert on ABC’s Nightline and CNBC