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Behind the “Elvis” Movie: Graceland’s PR Team

Published on April 11, 2023, at 2:59 p.m.
by Emilia Ciezadlo

Photo by @visitgraceland via Instagram

Dubbed as the “King of Rock ’N’ Roll,” Elvis Presley is inarguably one of the most famous musicians in history. Still holding the record for the most units sold by a solo artist, Presley has forever influenced music, art and entertainment for generations to come.

While there have been previous biopics that have depicted Presley’s life, the 2022 Warner Bros. “Elvis” movie highlights the musician in a way that reminds the world of his impact. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the movie stars Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, who bring the story to life. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Luhrmann dug into archives at Graceland to understand Presley and better detail who he was as a person. Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises were undoubtedly an integral part in the process of creating this film.

Alicia Dean, the marketing promotions and event specialist at Elvis Presley Enterprises, worked directly with Warner Bros. to ensure that Presley was accurately portrayed in the movie. She emphasized how committed Luhrmann and Butler were to carry on the Elvis Presley legacy.

Photo by @visitgraceland via Instagram

“The whole process started five years before the movie came out,” said Dean. “So, Baz came and did extensive research. We allowed him into our archives and our collection so he could learn everything he could. … When you watch the movie, I would say that about 90% of it is historically accurate. The things that aren’t accurate were things he used to stylize the movie.”

Luhrmann’s attention to detail and devotion to protecting the Presley legacy paid off, as the movie won several awards and blew up on social media. Fans buzzed with excitement and expressed interest in visiting Graceland after seeing “Elvis.” Immediately following the premiere of the movie, tourism at Graceland shot up an exponential amount according to Dean.

Dean explained how people travel from all over the world to visit the historical landmark. She also said that Graceland is more than just the Elvis Presley experience; there are studios, museums, important artifacts and a guest house on site that make it appealing to anyone and everyone.

Photo by @visitgraceland via Instagram

The large spike in tourism raised the idea that the movie changed the overall perception of Graceland, especially with younger audiences. Hannah Chatham, an entertainment public relations professional at Real Chemistry, said that the movie actually did change her perception of Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises as a whole.

“Honesty and transparency are just so important,” said Chatham. “Elvis, unfortunately, is not here to have a voice in his story, but it’s also important to pay respect to who he was as a musician because he was a part of history. I think it’s important to show the good and the bad that comes with it.”

“Elvis” has shined a new light on Graceland and got people of every generation more curious about his life. Warner Bros. and Elvis Presley Enterprises worked closely together to promote the movie to these audiences. Dean said she hosted press junkets and handled a wide variety of events, operations and other logistics before the premiere.

Though Graceland does occasionally work with an external agency to release content for specific campaigns, most of its advertising, public relations and marketing work is done in house. According to Dean, Elvis Presley Enterprises does a majority of the promotions for live concerts and events.

Photo by @visitgraceland via Instagram

The team is currently working on organizing “Elvis Week,” a week-long event honoring the musician’s passing in the month of August. Dean described this week as the company’s “Superbowl,” with fans coming from all over the world to attend. The team is planning for a younger demographic to come to this year’s week of festivities, which affects the overall promotion of “Elvis Week.”

“I’m trying to channel my inner college student,” Dean said. “We are trying to incorporate things into our pre-existing events that would hopefully entice a younger generation that wants to learn more about all this.”

Clearly, Elvis Presley Enterprises is strategically analyzing its publics to maximize the success of the event. Doing all the promotion in house allows for the company to easily control the narrative and market to the audiences it wants. The success of the movie drew audiences younger than ever before, and Dean said the Elvis Presley experience quickly adapted to it.

As a fan of the movie, Chatham recommends that Elvis Presley Enterprises integrates parts of the movie throughout Graceland. Whether it is including props from the movie in an exhibit or creating a virtual experience devoted to the film, capitalizing off of this successful movie can keep the tourism coming and Graceland alive, she said. As a PR professional, Chatham believes that remaining transparent and honest about Presley’s history is still most important in protecting his legacy.

PR is an ever-changing industry; no two days look the same at Elvis Presley Enterprises. Dean said that her team works around the clock to promote Graceland’s history while keeping up with the current buzz of “Elvis.”

Behind every event or promotion at Elvis Presley Enterprises, there is a strategy to connect with both new and established target publics. Graceland is evolving, and PR has everything to do with it.

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