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Insight/ Branding & Communications

The CMO.com Interview: Scott Williams, CMO Of Elvis Presley Enterprises

by Keith Loria
Contributing Writer
CMO.com

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Like most people who grow up in Memphis, Scott Williams knew much about Elvis Presley at an early age. That education came in especially handy about a dozen years ago, when he went to work for Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), first as vice president of marketing and now CMO.

“I didn’t have every album and wasn’t aware of the many different aspects of the Elvis Presley brand that I am now, but you can definitely say I was an Elvis appreciator,” Williams told CMO.com. “According to our research, just about everyone is an Elvis fan.”

EPE is the headquarters for everything Elvis. Williams is responsible for leading the development and management of all EPE marketing and communications initiatives that support Graceland, Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis.com, and special events. 

Additionally, the Elvis brand has close to 300 official licensees—people who want to use Elvis on their official goods or services. It’s also up to Williams and his team to provide them with the tools to communicate with Elvis’ 6.5 million fans on Facebook, the millions who get the e-newsletters, and worldwide Twitter followers. In addition, Williams works closely with Sony, which is in charge of the master recordings and releases Elvis albums.

“With all these different companies wanting to do things with the Elvis brand, we make certain everyone is on target in what needs to be said about Elvis, his legacy, and career,” Williams says. “Elvis is not going anywhere. It’s a business that will resonate for many new generations.”

Social Minds
A big part of carrying on the Elvis name involves social networking. During the past few years, Williams has increased the efforts at EPE in concept and execution of all the online and mobile tools used by the brand, developing a strategy for driving traffic using a variety of new content.

“We look at all of the ways people can utilize social networking to celebrate their love of Elvis, but also to use the tools as a discovery point,” says Williams, who, prior to joining EPE was a senior marketing executive at Baptist Memorial Health Care. “Our philosophy is that people today become fans of Elvis’ work just as they did in 1954 when people turned on the radio or went to a concert in Memphis or were exposed to him on the Ed Sullivan show.”

Fans today can discover the King of Rock and Roll on YouTube, Elvis.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networking sites. These digital channels helped drive the 35th Anniversary of Elvis Presley Week, a week-long celebration in Memphis that takes place around the time of the legendary singer’s death in August.

“We held a contest on YouTube to find a co-host. We had 100 people submit their videos, and we selected the top six and let the world vote on the winner online,” Williams says. “Through the process, we also discovered new talent that we booked for some musical events that we run. We wanted people from around the world to experience what the week is like and get the buzz going about Graceland so they will come next year.”

Throughout the week, the Elvis.com Web site ran video of different events and activities, inserting lots of Elvis products in the videos to get people talking about the brand. At the entertainment tent during Elvis Week, for example, photos posted to the site would get almost 4,000 shares instantly, with 900 comments popping up. That’s social networking at its finest.

“Another interesting thing we did was we had #Elvisweek Instagram photos so if people took photos and uploaded them, we could show them,” Williams says. “We took the job of recording what was going on and put that in the hands of the fans. The photos on the site were amazing, and the spirit of creativity and the quality were great.”

The power of digital communication, he says, has truly helped hard-core Elvis Presley fans from all over the world find each other and build communities. Another case in point: A weekly podcast on the Elvis.com Web site, which EPE is in charge of putting together, receives close to 15,000 downloads each week.

“The Internet has made it possible for fans to find content as a way to celebrate Elvis,” Williams says. “Whether it’s by sharing photos, retweeting, or having a conversation on Facebook, that’s what has been so much fun about working in this brand.”

Next Page: A Little More Conversation

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When it comes to branding, Williams works closely with the licensing department and attends the annual licensing show every year in Las Vegas to make sure the Elvis Presley name remains at the top of everyone’s wish list.

“We don’t just look for new partners, but it’s about making sure the ones we do go into business with make sense long-term for us,” he says. “Something you see from the top down at the company is looking at a long-term strategy.”

You would think that a singer who has been gone for 35 years might present a challenge to market, but the Elvis brand is not waning at all.

“Our research shows that 34 percent of all visitors to Graceland are 34 and younger. There are a lot of families, and we host 15,000 school kids each year,” Williams says. “When you see that many fans on Facebook, it’s definitely a young, vibrant brand still, and people discover his music all the time.”

In fact, a recent focus group by the company invited groups of people ages 21 to 29 living in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago to express their feelings about Elvis.

“The results were remarkably positive. People have very strong, positive views about him,” Williams says. “Many of them discovered Elvis and his music between fourth and sixth grade from their music teachers. That set off a lightbulb in our heads: We need to make sure we are communicating with those teachers.”

As a result, EPE launched a program that lets teachers from anywhere in the world attend Graceland for free. Williams and his team also enlisted a number of teachers to help develop a curriculum around Elvis’ music, so educators would have Elvis facts and a lesson plan if they wanted to open up the eyes and ears of their students to his music.

EPE also makes sure to capitalize on any celebrity visitors who come to Graceland, posting their photos on the Elvis.com Web site and asking them to tweet about their experiences. Additionally, part of the job entails communicating with fan clubs, marketing the Elvis Insider (an Elvis Presley Production-driven club), and working with Elvis collectors.

“Like anything that people collect, it’s important that you not try to get rich quick and don’t print five times as many, because you want to keep things limited with numbers,” Williams says. “You need to keep things smart and don’t overdue it and only produce what the market will bear.”

Are You Global Tonight?
Even though Graceland is landlocked in Memphis, more than 25 percent of all visitors each year are international travelers. That’s why it’s important for Williams and his team to come up with off-premises initiatives as a means to keep those visits coming on premises.

“We just launched in San Paulo, Brazil, the largest exhibit of Elvis-related artifacts ever on display outside of Graceland,” Williams says. “It was a big undertaking, but we see that the Brazil market is doing a lot of travel to the U.S. and we want to make sure that they include Graceland in those plans.”

Another recent international relationship is with the Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool, England, where an exhibit went up exploring the relationship between the King and the Fab Four to help promote Elvis to Beatles fans.

“The international media loves Elvis, and we work weekly with them. Product-wise, there is always something new being released in other countries,” Williams says. “We make sure that there is synergy between all our partners and we constantly creating new opportunities for them.”     

Thank You, Thank You Very Much
As he contemplates his EPE tenure, Williams knows that the fans themselves have played a role in making his job easier.

“Working with fans, the most important thing I learned is to experience the passion that they have and never underestimate it--it’s truly remarkable,” he says. “The lesson is that the passion can transfer from person to person online and be harnessed and used in a digital environment.”

Today, his main priority of the job continues to be what it has always beenL to create touch points where people can be exposed to the work of Elvis Presley.

“It’s about constantly creating ways for people to discover Elvis Presley and turn them into fans,” Williams says. “If I were to leave tomorrow, my takeaway would be that it’s all about the brand.”

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