Where Dead Celebrities Go to Live

Issue 07-16-17   |   Reviewer:   Bob Cohen, MBA


Jamie Salter’s Authentic Brands Group LLC recently completed a $137 million makeover of Graceland, four years after buying a majority stake in the Elvis name. They also opened the 450-room, four-diamond Guest House hotel next door in late 2016. For some, the idea of investing this kind of cash in an entertainer who died four decades ago is an exceptionally bad risk. But if Salter knows anything, it’s how to raise the dead—at least financially.

Salter has built Authentic into a $5 billion business by snapping up the brands of dead celebrities as well as living stars such as Shaquille O’Neal. To sustain the business of promoting people who have been out of the public eye for many years, Salter works with studios and other media to create new content. For example, take Marilyn Monroe. He says her biggest fans today are fifteen to twenty-five, in part because of the actress’s continuing presence on social media. She boasts 258,000 followers on Twitter; 14.6 million users like her on Facebook; and a Marilyn Snapchat “selfie lens” introduced last year has been used more than 300 million times.

Elvis, meanwhile, is in the midst of a European tour. The Wonder of You features the King on screen, a live orchestra, and a live appearance by former wife Priscilla. Luxury goods maker Coach Inc.’s limited-edition Elvis-themed Rogue handbag, released in February, sold out, and there’s a new installment in the Elvis Lives video slot game series from Scientific Games. Salter says he uses a “moneyball” system that weighs a brand’s or name’s social media presence, its demographics, and the income level and involvement of followers. And, since 2013, royalties have grown 20 percent, including a 50 percent bump in music revenue.

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