Admission no.1, I was a bit of an Elvis fan growing up. I may have even had a life size velour poster pinned to the ceiling above my bed. Last Christmas I made a pilgrimage to Graceland, Elvis’ home in Memphis Tennessee. It was never on the bucket list, more the result of a sidebar conversation with a friend that very quickly escalated into us booking flights.
It was a memorable experience, but in none of the ways I thought it would be, and in many ways I didn’t. Re-immersing myself into the world of The King with my (now) adult marketing brain, some key foundation learnings were impressed upon me.
Keep it real
Growing up in an MTV cribs era, I expected Graceland to be the abject embodiment of extreme excess from its day. What I found, was a relatively humble suburban family home. Modest scale and decoration, with no single room unused. This was not a vacuous mansion or excessive display of wealth. Having come from humble roots in Tupelo Mississippi it was clearly important for the young boy made good to provide a nice and respectable home for his family, and behind the scenes it was just that – a grounded working family home, his mother, father and grandmother all lived in the house full time.
Frequent visitors were The Memphis Mafia, a small team of trusted friends and advisors that knew where he came from, and could relate to the man behind the hype. Throughout his rollercoaster career Elvis always kept these people close to him.
Today’s media/advertising industry breeds a lot of enlarged egos, and you could argue that this self-belief is in some part necessary to fuel the power of persuasion that drives the industry machine. If there is a learning, it’s don’t buy into your own hype. Surround yourself with people that will interrogate your thinking and keep your feet on the ground. Elvis was well aware of the power of the monster brand machine he had created, but he was able to laugh at himself until the end.
Put your best foot forward
Having come from very humble roots Elvis vowed never to don another pair of jeans. To him this was an emblem of his deprived childhood. Whether relaxing at home with the family or performing on stage Elvis always dressed to impress, and he taught his wife Priscilla to do the same. He had no stylists at work, but his own innate fashion sense set many popular trends.
We may not feel or realise it, but we are all on stage. People takes cues from how you carry yourself, how you treat others, and what you have accomplished. Whether on set, stage, pitch room, or meeting room, you should manage your own personal brand and promote yourself in the best light.
Lean into your strengths. In one way or another, each of us is gifted. Identify your strengths and believe in them – whenever possible, develop them. We are all a work in progress. If we focus solely on improving our weaknesses, we may only be mediocre, but by focusing on our strengths, we can be extraordinary.
Poor management will be the death of you and your career
The day after Elvis Presley died in August 1977, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, did not choose to join the worldwide outpouring of grief. Instead, he flew to New York to negotiate a deal for the merchandising rights to the name and likeness of the dead star.
Colonel Tom Parker’s ruthless and often tasteless handling of Elvis Presley may have been partly responsible for building him into one of the most successful and recognizable brands pop music has ever seen, but it also chained him to a treadmill of mediocre Hollywood movies that destroyed his credibility and self-respect. Only to be followed by a grueling Vegas contract which locked him into three shows per day, five days per week. An unsustainable punishing schedule that fueled a dependency on prescription drugs in order to perform, and ultimately led to his demise.
Choose who your work with carefully. A great boss is extremely valuable. They will empower you and help you excel. The professional network that you develop can fuel your career, providing mentorship, coaching, friendship and feedback for personal growth.
41 years after his death, and the impact of Elvis Presley is still felt everywhere. You would be hard pushed to find a person in the world, young or old, without at least some awareness of who he is. Tens of thousands of people make a living today by impersonating him. His brand was inextricably linked to a cultural revolution, which makes him an indelible part of history. The legacy lives on.