Mark Evans, the longstanding marketing boss of insurance company Direct Line Group, is leaving the business at the end of this year to focus on growing his portfolio of non-executive roles, coaching and pro-bono work.
As he steps down, brands director Kerry Chilvers will take over as the business’s top marketer, amid a senior leadership restructure that will see the introduction of a chief customer office.
Describing his time at Direct Line as a “huge privilege”, Evans tells Marketing Week he is now “jumping off the cliff” with a mission to help more people and more businesses.
“The thought to go portfolio has been there for quite a long time. I’m coming up to 50, I’ve been working 25 years, and I’ve been in this role for 10 years. But I said quite a while ago that this would be my last exec role, to force myself to go off and do what my real dream is, which is to help on a broader basis and bigger scale,” he says.
He believes now is the “right time” to depart as he has a “brilliant team in place” and an “amazing” leader in Chilvers to hand over the reins to, “so it’s nice to be able to get out of her way”. “If not now, then when? If I did another three or five years, frankly I’d just be another three or five years older,” he adds.
Blood, sweat and tears have gone into making sure we have the reputation and credibility to be a strategic influence rather than just a support function.
Mark Evans, Direct Line Group
Evans joined Direct Line Group as director of brand portfolio and partnerships in 2012, a role he held for just four months before being named marketing director. Then in 2019, he was promoted onto the executive committee as managing director of marketing and digital.
In recent years Evans has picked up a variety of additional roles, becoming an independent advisor of HM Revenue & Customs in May 2022, and a board member of The Marketing Society in February 2021. He is also a non-executive director of tech startup EMMa3D, chair of the School of Marketing, founder of the marketing industry’s charity Sprintathon event, and chair of the Advertising Association’s Front Foot initiative, which seeks to increase trust in advertising.
Prior to joining Direct Line Group in 2012, Evans was head of customer management, retail banking at HSBC for two years. He was at 118118 between 2006 and 2010, latterly as CEO of its B2B business unit, and started his career in 1997 with eight years at FMCG giant Mars, culminating in a role as brand director of Petcare Europe.
Reflections on the job
Commenting on his departure, CEO Penny James praises Evans for his work in turning Direct Line Group’s brands into “household names”.
“In the highly competitive world of insurance our extremely high retention rates speak to customer satisfaction, but Mark has never been complacent and has always been a tireless advocate for driving great customer outcomes,” she says.Direct Line’s Mark Evans: Being customer orientated is a constant work in progress
When Evans joined Direct Line Group, he became part of the lead team that delivered its separation from RBS Group and rebrand from RBS Insurance.
A year later, under his leadership, Direct Line launched ‘The Fixer’ campaign, featuring the Pulp Fiction character Winston Wolf. It was incredibly powerful for the brand, bringing its entire category back to a conversation about insurance’s fundamental role in people’s lives after the rise of price comparison sites caused significant market disruption.
That role was not just to give people their money back, but to put things right when they go wrong, the campaign expressed. It resulted in five years of growth for the brand after 20 consecutive quarters of decline, and won multiple awards, including three IPA gold effectiveness awards.
Evans identifies this campaign as one of his top achievements over his 10 years with the firm. “It was probably one of the key pinnacle moments in my career. Landing Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolf was no mean feat, so that’s definitely number one,” he says.Marketing That Matters: The real story behind Direct Line’s transformative ‘Fixer’ campaign
His second biggest achievement was to bring commerciality into the business’s marketing function, and improve its credibility and influence within the wider organisation.
He explains: “In financial services it’s pretty rare that marketing is seen as anything beyond the colouring-in function, so blood, sweat and tears have gone into making sure we have the reputation and credibility to be a strategic influence rather than just a support function.”
Finally, Evans says he is “proud” of the team and talent that has built into Direct Line’s marketing team during his tenure, who have “gone on to do great things internally and externally”.
Looking ahead as he turns his focus towards his portfolio of projects, Evans hopes to continue coaching and supporting marketers transitioning into senior and executive-level roles, as well as expand his pro-bono and charity work, which began with the launch of the industry Sprintathon in partnership with Cancer Research UK in 2016.
“From the germ of an idea, the Sprintathon has now raised approaching £850,000 to help to beat cancer faster, so there’s a job to be done to get to £1m and then go further,” he says.
By taking on new non-executive director roles, he aims to support businesses with his 25 years of marketing expertise, helping them to “step-change” their marketing and customer orientation “even if that will be doing it from the side of the pitch rather than being on the pitch itself”.