The King may be gone, but he is far from forgotten. Elvis Presley routinely ranks among the top earning deceased celebrities, and through Elvis Presley Enterprises, more than 250 companies are licensed to manufacture and sell Elvis products. The licensing of the King is not a new endeavor. Almost from the time he became a national sensation in the 1950s his manager, Col. Tom Parker, oversaw the licensing of Elvis’ image. 

“Elvis was one of the first celebrities to be merchandised,” said Kevin Kern, director of public relations. “He truly was the first celebrity to have his image on everything, from pencils to suitcases, perfume bottles, buttons, and pins.”

Parker was in charge of Elvis Presley licensing through the 1980s, when Elvis Presley Enterprises was formed. “We really got focused in the 1990s, and since then, we have continued to grow,” said Carol Butler, vice president of international licensing. “We are busier today than we were when I started in 1994. I think a lot of that is due to the increased awareness of Elvis in the media.”

Whether it is the opening Cirque du Soleil Elvis show in Las Vegas or the celebration of Elvis’ 75th birthday this year, Butler said every time awareness of Elvis is raised in the media, more companies look to ways to license Presley products. “We’re very busy right now, and we have to screen each potential licensee that comes to us to make sure we’re not going to step on the toes of any of our current licensees,” Butler said. “We need to make sure we are not hurting our current businesses by adding someone new, but if there is a gap somewhere, we will fill it pretty quick.”

Currently, about five to 10 companies each week complete the application process to enter into a licensing agreement. Butler said Elvis Presley Enterprises typically moves forward with one or two of the proposals.

“It has to be a good match, and there has to be an understanding of Elvis and what our goals are,” she said. “If a company does seem like it will be a good match, we will look at the product and make sure it is a quality item that will enhance the brand.”

Expanding the brand

The company is always looking for effective and intriguing ways to introduce Elvis to new generations. For example, this summer will see the introduction of an Elvis Mr. Potato Head figure.

The company looked closely at whether the Elvis Mr. Potato Head would fit into the image it wants to convey. “We would never want to poke fun at Elvis, and we don’t think the Mr. Potato Head does that,” Butler said. “With the product, we can introduce Elvis to kids at a very young age. We want three- and four-year olds to know about Elvis in a positive way.”

Working with a brand like Mr. Potato Head that already has a strong consumer identity is part of the company’s focus on looking at more co-branding opportunities. “It helps our brand and the other brands when we co-license products,” Butler said. “It was a big success when we did the Elvis and Priscilla wedding doll set with Mattel, which has such a strong brand identity.”

Another prime example of successful co-branding and reaching out to a younger audience was the introduction of M&M’s characters dressed as Elvis in costumes from his different performance periods. “It is really an inspired piece because we are help making Elvis fans M&M fans and M&M fans Elvis fans,” Butler said. “We also have a similar partnership with Disney with about a dozen different pieces where Mickey Mouse dresses in different jumpsuits. It expands our demographics when we can reach into another area with co-branding like that.”

Growing internationally

The economic downturn hit almost everyone in 2009, but Butler said 2010 is looking much brighter for Elvis Presley Enterprises. “In 2009, buyers, customers, and retailers were all cautious,” she said. “We did see a small decline in our sales last year, but our sales far exceeded what we thought they would be. Our sales for 2010 have picked right back up, and we are hopeful we are over whatever small downturn there was last year.”

In the US and across the globe, Kern said a great deal of effort has been put into the company’s online sales and marketing efforts. “Shopelvis.com is the primary portal for our online merchandise sales,” he said. “It’s a joint venture between us and Live Nation, and it performs very well. We drive traffic there whenever we are promoting a new product or selling something online at Elvis.com.”

The company has also made a splash on online social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and several other networking sites that are popular outside the US. “Facebook is by far our most popular social networking site,” Kern said. “Elvis has about a half-million fans, and whenever we post something to promote a new license or product to the site, we almost immediately get a hundred comments in a number of languages; it’s just amazing.”

One area where the company will continue to focus in 2010 is international growth. Although Elvis has a great presence around the world, Butler said there are opportunities to expand into European and Asian markets.

“The challenge is to match the right agents with the right properties to do the best job possible in the individual countries,” Butler said. “All the countries are different, so we need to analyze how the markets and retailers work and what the customers want.”

Kern noted that the company already sells products around the globe and that there is still a great interest in the music legend. “Elvis is everywhere,” he said.

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