How Shelly Palmer Built his Personal Brand

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 brand.

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 clients.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *