Long Live The King: 5 Questions with the Gatekeepers of the Elvis Brand

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Every August, thousands of Elvis Presley fans descend upon Graceland to pay their respects to the King. Elvis Week, as the annual event has become known, is a celebration of the rock and roll icon’s life, and consists of concerts, movie screenings and candle vigils. This year’s event marked the 38th anniversary of Presley’s death, and while it wasn’t a landmark anniversary, change was in the air. 

And there’s good reason: Graceland is under new management. It’s not news that the Presley family no longer has majority control over Elvis’s intellectual property or management of Graceland itself—Lisa Marie sold that in 2005. But, in late 2013, National Entertainment Collectibles Association founder Joel Weinshanker acquired the rights to operate Graceland and its related properties in partnership with the Presley family and Authentic Brands Group (ABG). As part of that same transaction, ABG bought the Elvis intellectual property and oversees licensing and merchandising for the brand.   

The duo of brand managers have helped revive the King’s brand for a new generation of fans, including the introduction of an iPad tour narrated by John Stamos, a 450-room hotel that will open next fall, and a deal with Pulse Evolution to bring The King back to life with holographic performances for live shows, films and ads.  

On the heels of this year’s Elvis Week, brandchannel chatted with Weinshanker, managing partner of Graceland, and ABG’s President and CMO Nick Woodhouse to find out what else the future holds for Elvis.[more]

brandchannel: For the first time in 20 years, Graceland has announced new additions to the tour experience, but with two Elvis milestones in the near future (his 80th birthday in 2015, and the 40th anniversary of his death in 2017), what’s in store for Graceland and the Elvis Presley brand?

Joel Weinshanker: Elvis Presley is timeless, and Graceland is becoming not only one of the top attractions in the US, but the pop culture center of the world. Our goal is to continuously reinforce Elvis’s legacy as a true trendsetter and early adaptor, while continuing to update the visitor experience and maintaining the integrity of the mansion. 

bc: With an aging fan demographic, how are you attracting younger visitors, and what kind of experiences can they expect from their interactions with the Elvis brand? 

Weinshanker: If you visit Graceland, you will see that the average age of the guest is actually getting younger, not older. Elvis’s music, persona and legacy are being discovered by a new generation of modern, edgy fans. 

bc: Graceland just hosted its first-ever authenticated auction, which included a broad range of items, from a signed library card to a 1977 Cadillac Seville. With a collectible market that’s been thriving since 1977, why is Graceland getting involved now? 

Weinshanker: As we are all aware, many items have been offered over the years with “questionable” provenance. With over 1 million items, the Elvis Presley archive at Graceland is unrivaled by any other person’s archive, so we felt a responsibility to try and make sure that the items being offered to Elvis fans were legitimate. 

bc: ABG now owns the Elvis Presley intellectual property and manages the licensing and merch rights to the King’s image, but you’re also working closely with Joel [Weinshanker] and the Presley family to operate Graceland. How will this structure benefit the Elvis brand, and what is the collective vision you’re working towards?  

Nick Woodhouse: Just like we are focused on the Estate of Elvis Presley, Joel and the team at Graceland are tirelessly dedicated to growing the Elvis Presley brand while keeping the history of who Elvis was intact. Graceland has been a true partner in every sense of the word. The Presley family is also a partner of both properties and involved in all important decisions. We are collectively focused on reminding fans that Elvis was a true revolutionary not only in the music and entertainment industries, but in pop culture as well. 

bc: Are there any lessons you’ve learned from managing other celebrity brands like Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali that are proving to be useful with the Elvis brand? Will we start seeing similar plans to refresh the other celebrity brands in your roster? 

Woodhouse: One important thing we’ve learned from working with Marilyn Monroe is that quantity doesn’t always equal quality. On the branding and merchandising side of our business, we are focused on working with blue chip partners who have a true understanding and respect for the integrity of the Elvis Presley brand. It is not about licensing every single item that comes our way. We are building on a legendary global brand. It’s a very exciting time to be in the Elvis business. 

—Paula Pou is a New York-based word enthusiast by way of Brazil. Follow her sporadic musings on Twitter: @P_Pou

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