“Every half decent marketer needs to be a highly curious individual”: Mark Evans on the lessons of today for the leaders of tomorrow

Industry veteran Mark Evans has been in the game long enough to learn the difference between significance and success, and why balancing the pursuit of both with intrinsic motivation is the best lesson to teach marketing’s future generations.

Two decades is a long time doing anything, and should just about be enough to qualify you as an expert. In fact, one would be forgiven for thinking they might have a pretty good handle on how the whole thing operates, perhaps they’d even become a little complacent.

Mark Evans can boast over 25 years of experience working in marketing. With almost ten years at Mars Petcare in leadership positions followed by over a decade as CMO at Directline, few can contend with the man-hours of marketing he has committed to the craft - or science. However, as Evans himself will tell you, you can’t afford to get complacent working in marketing, or risk falling out of touch with an industry that moves at a mile a minute.

Having entered, as he puts it, “the third stage of my career”, Evans has decided his expertise is better utilised across as many branches of marketing as possible and so, leaving any one full-time position behind him, now wears several different hats across a few different advisory roles – most recently joining the growth board of tech start-up Studiospace.

Lessons learned

The marketing industry is a constantly changing landscape and one many struggle to keep up with. Evans explains he is a firm believer that although “every half decent marketer needs to be a highly curious individual”, in the wise words of David Weldon, it’s important “not to be the dog that barks at every car”.

“It’s about finding the right balance between being curious enough to stay engaged and up to date with new trends, but not so much so that you overcommit to ‘the new fad’. Marketers are constantly learning and unlearning information and that’s a skill. The ability to stay fresh and keep learning and realise that you've never sussed it.

“Think of ChatGPT, the technology clearly has the potential to be completely transformative, so you can't bury your head in the sand and pretend this stuff doesn’t exist but it also isn’t going to completely change a marketer's purpose. I think that's the beauty of marketing. It keeps you fresh, keeps you young – the moment you think you've learned everything, you’ll fail.”

Potential for “vicious circle” of failed leadership

Balancing curiosity with scepticism is important, but there’s a bigger existential question for marketing surrounding the faith marketers have from colleagues within their businesses.

“The average tenure of a CMO is half that of CEOs and barely 20% of CMOs get to the end of their second year. Further, 80% of CEOs say they don't trust or aren't impressed by their CMO, but in comparison, only 10% of CEOs say they don't trust or aren't impressed by their CFO.”

Based on this data from Fournaise Marketing Group, “marketing as a function is becoming increasingly marginalised” and there’s potential for a “vicious circle” of failed leadership at the executive level unless something is done.

Studiospace and the third career phase

Something that may surprise you upon meeting Evans is he has technically run six of the 10 fastest marathons in the world. More specifically, he is capable of running 100 metres in 17 seconds and found 421 other people who could do the same.

What came from this gathering was the introduction of the ‘Sprinathon’, a charity event launched in 2016.

“The Sprintathon is a combined 100 metre effort from over 400 hundred people to run around a track 105 and a half times as quickly as possible. This is all to raise money for cancer research and since 2016 I’ve completed 18 of them and raised just shy of £1m.

“Why this is relevant to my career is it was my first taste of real joy and impact outside of the nine to five. I was galvanised by that and decided to scale it a bit over the last few years. I've acquired more advisory, non-executive and coaching type roles because it's fun, it's exciting, but most importantly, it's impactful.

“When the mid part of 2022 rolled around and I decided that I wanted to do this as a full-time portfolio career, it felt more like a continuation than a completely new beginning.”

So why Studiospace? Evans currently works with HM Revenue & Customs as an advisor and contributes regularly to the direction of The Marketing Academy on its Alumni Council, among other roles, but something about the young B2B intermediary caught his attention.

“I was intrigued by Studiospace because it occurred to me that it’s the Airbnb of marketing services. Airbnb doesn’t own the hotels, Uber doesn't own the cars and Studiospace doesn't own the creative companies – but they can provide a platform for brands to access great work.

“It’s just really interesting as an emerging model. It's not the first intermediary that exists in the world of marketing services, but it strikes me as having the greatest potential to have the greatest reach, not least through self-service and that makes it an interesting disruptor.”

“For such a young and ambitious business, my role is to help them define their five-year future. To help them frame that ambition and act as a critical friend. I’m there very much as a sounding board, an amplifier and a connector. The best metaphor I've got is that I’m not on the pitch, but on the sideline yelling instructions.”

“Success and significance simultaneously”

Evans shares a statement that has profoundly defined a lof of his perspective on the world - uttered by his mate’s dad at a curry house in Nottingham, 28 years ago: “As I look before you, I'm jealous, because from this position you can achieve almost anything in the world. But at the same time I pity you,because for 20 years you'll go in search of success and then after 20 years, when maybe sadly, your best years are behind you, you'll realise it's not about success, it's about significance. But the really smart people figure out how to achieve success and significance simultaneously.”

Evans tells PMW: “The thing about that statement is, I got it conceptually in my twenties, but I think I didn't really start living it until my mid-thirties and if I could rewind I would, because I basically did prioritise success before significance in a one, two punch rather than simultaneously. Only over time have I figured out where that sweet spot is and how that intersection between the two truly does provide infinite creativity, resourcefulness and energy.”

The talent gap is “definitely a thing”

As someone who has learned to balance the two, Evans believes that neglecting significance for success presents a danger for young marketers because priorities can quickly become misaligned – an issue leaders of the future can’t afford to have, lest we risk more CMOs leaving the position just as quickly as they come into it. Enter issues like the talent gap.

“The talent gap is definitely a thing. At a macro level, people are making different life decisions and carry with them different workplace expectations, so you've got to really give people a good reason to come to you and to stay because there is still a supply of great talent but they're more discerning.

“The trick is, instead of creating a ‘vicious circle’, veteran marketers must create a ‘virtuous circle’, where you invest in the skills of the people around you. Leaders must foster belonging, bonding, vision, purpose and meaning.

“Achieve this and what you’re left with is youth who have got both the will and the skill. It's then about creating clarity and empowerment so that people can give their best in a functional environment . And then, that frees the leader up to reinvest time in themselves – focus on the bigger fish to fry.”

How the industry can help

A challenge marketing faces is the fact that some people are extrinsically driven – focused on nothing but earning – while others are more intrinsically driven – motivated by a love of marketing and what it can bring people.

“It's about intrinsic motivation,” Evans insists.

“I'm involved in the school of marketing and I’ll unapologetically plug it because intrinsic motivation is their M.O, their premise. I also really like how they seek to achieve success, the concept is essentially standing on the shoulders of giants and learning from people who have been there, done that, and care enough to support the next generation.”

“Why shouldn’t veteran marketers pass on some of the wisdom and knowledge they’ve gathered to help people still cutting their teeth in the world? It accelerates their ability to grow and develop.”

A fault many marketers fall foul of is failing to foster mentorship, occuring because keeping up with the industry is a full-time job and time for teaching isn’t in abundance. This is why Evans’ “third career phase” is a constructive avenue for mentoring the next generation and identifying future industry leaders.

He himself was a product of a classic graduate program, which allowed for mentoring from senior staff, something “that’s a luxury, not a necessity for many companies, but it shouldn’t be”.

“Failure is a big part of success and my graduate work was an opportunity not only for rich learning but also for failure and figuring out how to bounce back. Today, the value of letting young talent fail is overlooked by far too many marketing teams and that’s something I hope to help change.”