CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/MARCUS EVANS - Carlson’s big bear prefers a bang to a whimper. Carlson’s new boss Marcus Evans has an ego to match his size

You can throw away the book of Things to Say About Big Men when it comes to Marcus Evans, the newly promoted UK chairman of the huge Carlson Marketing Group. The phrases ’larger than life’ and even ’brick shithouse’ seem limp and insufficient when direct marketing’s equivalent of The Refrigerator comes thundering towards you on surprisingly dainty feet. (’Swaggering,’ he later corrects me. ’I am the man for whom the word ’swagger’ was invented.’)

You can throw away the book of Things to Say About Big Men when it

comes to Marcus Evans, the newly promoted UK chairman of the huge

Carlson Marketing Group. The phrases ’larger than life’ and even ’brick

shithouse’ seem limp and insufficient when direct marketing’s equivalent

of The Refrigerator comes thundering towards you on surprisingly dainty

feet. (’Swaggering,’ he later corrects me. ’I am the man for whom the

word ’swagger’ was invented.’)



Throughout his high-profile career (he would be incapable of any other

kind), Evans has become one of those people who polarises opinion to a

headline-making degree. While touting his wares following his noisy exit

from Bates Communications last year, few agency bosses who met him

failed to report back to Campaign. ’Do you know him? What do you think?’

they would ask, with the incredulous tone of someone who can’t quite

believe that what they have just encountered is a real person and not an

entire country.



There is no doubt that Evans is a big name in the industry, having

created a high profile for himself wherever he went - whether it was for

becoming a loyalty specialist at Ogilvy & Mather Direct (now OgilvyOne)

or as part of the dynamic team that made Bates Communications into a

serious contender on the UK direct marketing scene rather than an

embarrassing fart for Bates UK to waft away in pitch meetings.



But now he’s got his work cut out for him. Evans’s first job as chairman

- a job arrived at after just six months with the company - is to manage

last week’s ’it’s not a merger’ merger of Smith Bundy Carlson and

Eleven.



The former has a slightly dusty, fusty image; the latter is an

’ideas-based’ agency, both of which can do the gamut of direct

marketing, sales promotion, relationship marketing, customer

relationship management, data and curing the common cold.



Evans insists that the two brands will remain separate because of the

loyalty which both feel to clients and staff. He says: ’We want to

consolidate our position and simplify a convoluted and jargonistic

area.’



Furthermore, Carlson has an image problem: it is not seen as an agency

but a factory. No-one knows what it does and there seems to be no

personality therein.



In fact, Carlson is not an it, it’s a ’they’ - a collection of huge,

diverse and relatively successful companies which do everything from

back-end technology to front-end strategy and creativity. But Carlson

has erred on the side of excess in trying to resolve the problem. The

constant re-jigging and rebranding of the various companies to try and

fix it is dangerously reminiscent of deckchairs on the Titanic.



Robert Janes, responsible for Carlson’s European and now Asia-Pacific

markets, whose UK remit was passed on to Evans in last week’s reshuffle,

defends the number of restructures by explaining that each time a new

company was acquired, things had to reshuffle to make it fit in.



’To have built a business totalling around 600 employees in a ten-year

period, we’ve done more right than wrong,’ he says, though adding:

’We’re the IBM of the relationship marketing world. No-one gets sacked

for choosing us, but we may not seem like the most exciting choice.’



Mike Cornwell, a friend who worked at O&MD with Evans and is now the

chief executive of GGT Direct, is confident in his strengths as a

frontman, but is sceptical of how much freedom he will be allowed to

flex at Carlson. ’No-one knows which bit of Carlson does what, but it

also loses patience with any efforts to change it. Whether it’s US

interference, I don’t know - Marcus will find out. But no-one’s been

able to change it yet.’



However, Evans’s ego is too big for him not to succeed; he won’t allow

it. It’s uncanny that his initials spell out ’ME’, and for every

touchy-feely comment he makes about his beloved staff (’Carlson’s assets

are all human, and we have to invest in making them motivated and

happy ...’), he blows it with a staggering solipsism (’... otherwise,

I’m not going to be the best.’).



Evans warns that he will take no prisoners in his bid to make the agency

noticeably better by January. ’I’ve thrown down the gauntlet to my

colleagues and told them that they’re on six months’ notice. Be afraid,’

he adds, with a maniacal cackle. But he also wants to make it more - in

the words of his doppelganger, Tigger - fun, fun, fun.



Which seems already to have kicked in. While I am on the phone to his

creative director, Chris Martin (who followed him to Carlson from

Bates), gathering serious insight on his newly enlarged creative

department made up of both Smith Bundy and Eleven’s resource, Evans

apparently tumbles into Martin’s office, moons him, then scarpers.



But other than flashing your creative director, how do you inject more

fun and soul into a company, exactly? ’Encouraging people to work and

express themselves in the way they want to,’ Evans proclaims. ’If our

creatives want to go to the park with a notebook and bottle of wine,

that’s what they can do, if it means they get the best possible idea and

strategy.’



It’s no wonder Evans runs the Institute of Direct Marketing’s loyalty

workshops given the bucketloads of the stuff he elicits from all those

around him.



Take Martin, for instance, who admits he wouldn’t have gone near

Carlson’s Portmeirion-type offices in Putney if it wasn’t for the

seductive sausage-finger of Evans beckoning.



Although it wasn’t just loyalty and friendship that did it. ’I never

wanted to turn up for a pitch and see him in reception with another

agency, ready to pitch against mine,’ Martin shudders.



Martin Troughton, now the managing partner of HPT Brand Response, who

was Evans’ managing director at Bates, agrees: ’My advice to anyone is:

if he is on a conference platform, make sure you’re not next. He is a

tough act to follow - partly for the information he delivers but mainly

for the way he delivers it. I learnt a lot from him.’



Although, in the end, it was Troughton who left Bates first - well

before things went wrong.



Evans was the first senior person to quit Bates when the UK chairman,

Graham Hinton, bought Green’s Blue Skies consultancy and installed him

as chairman of the newly merged below-the-line operation. Evans left in

the week that Green joined, ’as a direct result of Hinton’s decision to

bring in someone else without consulting me’.



The Bates Communications that Evans left is very different to the one

that Green joined, if you believe each one’s PR. While Green claims a

victory for having turned round a sickly agency in his year there

(ending this month), Evans claims the opposite. ’Graham had his own PR

to think of, so addressed it in that way. But we were storming: turning

in record profits, huge wins, more than doubling the staff and putting

profits up over 500 per cent in two years.’



Some feel that Evans has played the victim too much about his deposition

from Bates. A close source comments: ’He couldn’t see the size of the

opportunity. They weren’t trying to stitch him him up, they were trying

to create a truly integrated agency in which the direct marketing agency

and advertising agency were one entity, with neither the dominant force.

He should have stood back from the chaos and the in-fighting, and seen

the opportunity rather than start a mutiny.’



But that’s Evans’s style. Why have a whimper when a bang would do? He

attracts attention like flypaper. While at O&MD, for example, he

attended a party at David Ogilvy’s chateau in Poitiers. As Evans was

fooling around in the swimming pool, the great man himself inquired

peevishly of agency chairman Nigel Howlett: ’Who let that bear in my

pool?’



Evans loves this story and tells it frequently. ’I am a bear,’ he

croons, coquettishly, and sings: ’I’m so young, soft and furrrrry.’



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