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Marketeer of the Month

By The Drum | Administrator

April 9, 2003 | 6 min read

The evolution of the Chris Evans brand has been almost as big a roller coaster ride as the Virgin brand that he is now suing in a high profile legal battle to recover the £8.6m in share options which he lost when he was fired from the radio station by owners SMG in June 2001.

The former hospital porter and gorillagram from Warrington burst onto our TV screens with The Big Breakfast in 1992 and in the eyes of many his rise to stardom was overnight. The establishment of Ginger Media and the roll-out of hit TV shows such as Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and TFI Friday saw Evans’ commercial value rocket along with his public profile.

He was a hit during his tenure as Radio 1’s breakfast show presenter and it was at this point that everything touched by the Evans ‘brand magic’ turned not just to gold but platinum. A move to Richard Branson’s Virgin Radio continued the upward spiral of the Evans brand which was almost getting out of control when he acquired the station from Branson in 1997.

But problems were looming for the Evans brand. The public fell out of love with it, the Evans brand magic all but disappeared, perhaps as Brian Beech, managing director of Leedex Euro RSCG, who previously worked with Evans at Piccadilly Radio, suggests because of the British media’s “build ‘em up, knock ‘em down’ mentality.”

Foul-mouthed outbursts from Black Grape frontman Shaun Ryder on TFI Friday, fines by the Radio Authority, press coverage of Evans’ flash showbiz lifestyle and drinking binges with footballer Paul Gasgoine culminated with Evans selling Virgin Radio and Ginger Media to SMG for £225m. A good deal at the time for Evans, but this ultimately led to his downfall as he failed to turn up to host his radio show, preferring to spend time with his young wife Billie Piper and other assorted drinking buddies.

One swift two-year ‘honeymoon’ later and the Evans brand is back on the UK media scene. However, it seems that capturing the adoration of his former fans is proving harder than even he thought possible with his new TV show Boys and Girls already being dropped from its prime time slot by Channel 4 despite the format being sold to the US.

With Evans’ profile being lower than it has been for the last decade it could be suggested that the current court case and the high level of ensuing coverage in the press and on TV has come at just the right time.

The Evans versus Virgin Radio case is one of the few stories offering a little “light relief” amongst stories of the Iraq war.

It could be alleged that money simply could not buy the degree of publicity the Evans brand has been receiving since the court proceedings kicked off last month.

Even if Evans loses the court case and is made to pay court costs then chances are that the value to the Evans brand of the publicity he has received in the press during the case will far outweigh anything he has to pay out.

So, is Evans getting everything he can out of this high profile court case? And is he ensuring that it remains in the media glare.

Nigel Sarbutts, managing director of Connectpoint PR, says that the Evans brand has been in a coma for the last two years and now as a canny businessman he knows that something has to happen: “The Evans brand has been ticking along in that time, but it will need a jolt to bring him back into the public eye as the much loved character he was on the Big Breakfast and Radio 1.

“He does not seem to be playing the poor little me card and seems to be telling it as it is, but I would imagine he is being advised to say enough to keep it newsworthy, such as he always went to work with a hangover and so on. He would be a fool not to exploit this opportunity.”

Beech says that Evans is one of the most talented people he has ever worked with and that despite the level of negative coverage the Evans brand has, and is currently receiving, his class will shine through and he will continue to be force to be reckoned with in UK media.

He says: “The Evans brand has been stronger than it is right now, but like the M&S brand has done recently the Chris Evans brand will undoubtedly bounce back.

“He is one of the few stories that is still making it into the papers as well as the war, which shows that he is still very newsworthy and people want him to succeed.”

In the eyes of Paul Carroll, CEO of Communique, the Evans brand is all but finished: “His brand is at a low ebb and getting lower. This really has been tawdry stuff, but that is often the way these showbiz cases go.

“If this is his idea of raising positive publicity then he needs to think again. He has been paraded as a lonely flawed genius with psychological problems, so any thoughts that this will restore his public image is way off. This dirty linen thing won’t be his saviour.”

Carroll also calls into question whether the advice Evans is receiving is good or bad.

“When you get egos as big as his then they often do as they please and do not listen to advisors. His advisors may be telling him that this is not going to turn out well, but he is well known for doing his own thing.”

How the press coverage of the court case will ultimately effect the Evans brand remains to be seen, but so far he has been painted as a down-trodden employee who turned to drink and friends when the company he once owned began to fall to pieces around his ears.

He could be seen as the cheated celebrity going up against the might of corporate bullies Virgin Radio and SMG. Either way, tears on the stand can certainly do the Evans brand no harm as he now looks to humanise the Evans brand – something that was not uppermost in his mind two years ago.

So, is Evans a marketing genius capable of returning the Evans brand back to its former glories? It would seem that the jury is still out.


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