Marketing Elvis -- good gig if you can get it, right?
"We're not creating a product here and trying to make it fit any holes. It's already there."
Paul Jankowski, who joined Elvis Presley Enterprises in October as its first chief marketing officer, seems to be enjoying the job. We visited Jankowski to talk about the business of Elvis as the 30th anniversary of his death approaches. Business is good -- from TV (a national campaign for the Honda CR-V rocked to a remixed version of "Burning Love") to the Graceland gates (600,000 visitors annually).
"I equated the other day our visitorship to a 40-day concert tour -- sold-out concert tour," said Jankowski, 41, who was raised in Memphis, graduated from Christian Brothers High and the University of Tennessee, and went on to an entertainment business career that included CBS Records and Gibson Guitar.
EPE already had a marketing department, but Jankowski's position was created as part of media mogul Robert F.X. Sillerman and CKX Inc.'s plans to step up global marketing of all things Elvis. In 2005, Sillerman paid $100 million for an 85 percent stake in the Presley estate.
Excepts from our conversation with Jankowski:
Q: What parts of the fan base would you like to expand upon? A young audience is a big target, right?
A: We're not just targeting a young demo. Because if you look at what's happening in the marketplace, it's kind of happening organically. People are tapping into the power of his music and his influence. We're there. We're there with a very diverse group.
Q: What's an example of someone who maybe doesn't listen to Elvis, but you think, 'We can reach this person'? An 18-year-old with his iPod?
A: That could be one. (But) I want to be very careful that we don't limit it. Because if you're an entertainment consumer -- or more specifically, a music consumer -- you're already aware of Elvis. We want to give you more tools to investigate different things of Elvis. For instance, his influence on fashion, the doors he blew open there.
Q: What are some of those tools?
A: There might be tactics that include a digital platform ... down the road. We're already very active on YouTube and MySpace. We're already there. ... The fans are driving it. Q: Are there some people to whom Elvis is not cool, not contemporary? Do you have to convince some people? A: I think it's making them aware of an element of his life that they may have not been aware of. An example ... One great takeaway from the tour of Graceland is his overwhelming generosity. We've got some very good research that points to 18- to 24-year-olds that come out of it going, 'Wow, I had no idea about his generosity.'
Q: Because Elvis had so many personas, do you market him in different ways to different groups?
A: I don't think we change the message. Elvis is Elvis. There's nothing like him in the world. There's not an icon like him in the world. It just doesn't exist. We don't construct the message to reach an audience, because Elvis, by virtue of what he does -- or did -- does that. ... We're not creating a product here and trying to make it fit any holes. It's already there.
Q: Nirvana's Kurt Cobain beat out Elvis on Forbes magazine's annual Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list (mostly because his widow, Courtney Love, sold a stake in his song catalog for a reported $50 million). What are your thoughts on that?
A: Elvis will be back on top. The Forbes list is no indications of the strength of the Elvis legacy. ... We've got a deal with Hershey's (for a limited edition of Reese's peanut butter cups with an image of Elvis on the package and a peanut butter and banana creme flavor). The Honda CR-V is another great example. They used Elvis' music. They aired a spot during the Super Bowl. (And) Sports Illustrated. Let's get relevant. Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, shooting right here at Graceland. Don't take my word for it. Look at the examples of Fortune 100 companies doing what they do.
The Paul Jankowski Elvis File:
Job title: Chief marketing officer, Elvis Presley Enterprises
Job description: Overseeing global brand development.
Hometown: Born in Aurora, Ill., but raised in Memphis.
Career highlights: Created promotions for Tom Petty, B.B. King and Elton John.
(News, Source: Commercial Appeal, March 2007)