He’s Gone!

Well he’s finally taken the hint. After it became clear that  he had the support of neither his work colleagues nor the general public, he finally did the decent thing and resigned.

No I’m not talking about Jeremy Corbyn (who apparently needs something more akin to a bang over the head with a sledgehammer than a hint) but rather Chris Evans, who announced that he won’t be making any more Top Gear shows after this series.

Evans took over as lead presenter of the hit BBC2 show following the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson late last year. Like it or loathe it, Top Gear is a huge worldwide money maker for the BBC and so the appointment of Evans was subject to much scrutiny and analysis in the media. Evans has always been something of a Marmite character and so the outcome was always in the balance. Things didn’t go well.

Ratings plummeted as both the presentational style and content  was savaged by both the press and on social media. By the final show of the series, it was clear that the Evans experiment had failed and that there would need to be a change. Evans resigned, despite having a 3 year contract to present the show, and as I write this, the future is uncertain.

So what went wrong and what can we learn from it?

Well certainly, the decision to stick to the original format of the show didn’t help. Evans and his co-presenters attempted to step into the shoes of the personalities who had presented the show previously with similar content and scripts. It was described by many as like watching a bad tribute act.

That has to be the first lesson I think – that it is far better to be the best version of yourself, than a poor imitation of someone else. Try to imitate someone else and you will always suffer in comparison. Be original and unique and you will be judged on your own terms. If you don’t invite comparison, it’s unlikely that you will suffer from it.

This is certainly something I’ve been conscious of over the years. We have never had the budget (or indeed the skill!) to create publications that look like the kind of things you might find on a shelf in W H Smiths. So we have never tried to do that. Instead, we’ve created products that look completely different – less polished, less elaborate certainly, but still fulfilling the objective of conveying important information clearly and effectively. I think this is what Evans should have done – started again with something that achieved the same objective – to inform and entertain – but with a very different look and feel.

But I don’t think this is the only reason the show failed, because despite  what I’ve just said, much of the series was actually pretty good. No, to find the other big nail in the Evans Top Gear coffin,  you need look no further than the first show in the series. It was awful!

I watched the first show as a long term Top Gear fan, and couldn’t believe how bad it was. I almost didn’t bother watching any more episodes, which would have been a shame because it improved immeasurably. Many other people felt the same way, except they weren’t as persistent as me – they gave up on the thing altogether.

I was totally baffled by the decision to put what was clearly the weakest episode, up first, and sought explanation from someone in the TV business. They explained that producers like a series to improve and build through its run, and that this kind of approach is fairly common.

As a business person, and (a human being!) this just seems crazy. Why? Well let’s start with an old adage.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The first impression that the Chris Evans Top Gear created was poor. Once that impression was created, it led to a perception and an expectation that proved impossible to shake off. Many people didn’t give the show a second chance and those that did, had a negative expectation of what they were about to see. Each succeeding episode had ground to make up, just to get to a level of neutrality. Positivity was way in the distance.

Make no mistake, the job of that first show was to sell the rest of the series .It failed miserably because it started out with its weakest ‘argument’.

Whenever any of us are selling anything – whether that be a product, an idea or even ourselves, it’s absolutely vital that we start out with the biggest guns we can muster. Time is tight and it is precious. People  don’t have the time or inclination to allow us to get warmed up and eventually deliver the goods. They are constantly looking for clear evidence that it might be worth spending a bit more time on (or with) us, and if they don’t get that very quickly, they’ll go elsewhere.

It’s why headlines are so important in sales letters, why first impressions are so critical in sales meetings, and why the first 30 seconds of a house viewing are often  decisive in determining whether a sale is made.

Can you imagine writing a boring headline on purpose, farting when walking into a sales meeting, or showing someone the bins first on a house viewing…just so there is room for the whole thing to improve and build? Of course not. You try to create a great impression from the off, and then hold on to the positive perception as best you can through the rest of the presentation. If you’re building rather than holding, it probably means you didn’t fire your biggest guns first.

Starting slowly and then building and improving might work if you have a captive audience, but who the heck has one of those? Chris Evans certainly  didn’t which is why he felt the need to fall on his sword.

It’s a harsh lesson. Your audience (and we all have one) won’t wait for you to limber up. If you need to build and improve your message, don’t do it in the public gaze. Hone it perfectly behind closed doors and then hit the world with your very best from the first words, the first line, the first picture or whatever scenario is appropriate to you. And then feed off the resulting wave of positivity all the way to your goal.

Perhaps only someone with an over-inflated opinion of their own importance and standing would think that it could ever work any other way?

17 thoughts on “He’s Gone!

  1. Mike Pritchard

    Chris Evans is hated by most car enthusiasts and the main reason the second episode was better was the fact he shut his big mouth and let others speak, he’s a really annoying man that knows nothing about cars except Ferrari’s. Top gear was Clarkson and co. so it will never be successful as ‘Top Gear’ without them, surely the BBC should realise that, they can’t carry on calling it Top Gear without them because it’s not Top Gear. They need to call it a new name and start from scratch. The episode’s that have gone out now are like the old Top Gear before Clarkson and co. made it successful, in other words it’s crap. To get it successful again they would need the three back.

    1. John Harrison Post author

      Agree that many dislike Evans in this, but I still maintain that all but the first episode were good enough to stand in their own right, and if any of those had aired first, Evans could still be in a job.

    2. J Sarhandi

      I think that businessman must make sure that nothing said in public by himself or his employees to offend any of his customers. looks somehow you slipped up on this. Jeremy Corbyn is hero to a very large majority of people from all sections of the people of this country.
      I think you need to apologize to those who support him.

      1. admin

        The only way to avoid offending at least someone, is to say nothing! If what you say is true, the “very large majority” must be keeping a very low profile.

        1. J Sarhandi

          Just because BBC is not reporting it does not mean he is not supported by large majority. In any case this is where you sell your goodies not express your politics.

          1. John Harrison Post author

            With respect sir, I think you’re mistaken on a number of fronts…

            1. Very few regular Labour voters (as opposed to the hard core activists) have any time for Mr Corbyn.

            2. I didn’t express any political view in this post, simply an indication that a man who has lost the confidence and support of most of his team is in an untenable position and should resign.

            3. This isn’t where I “sell my goodies”. It’s where I talk about stuff that interests me and hopefully some other people. There’s very rarely (if ever) anything for sale in the blog.

      2. ronnie

        Corbyn has no Principles,this is the man who would rather fly the Red Flag than the Union Jack along with Mc donnel the IRA Apologist ,this is a man who has been against the EU for years ,when it came push to shove he went along with all his so called followers and voted to Remain in ,Corbyn and his Bully boys have finished off the Labour Party i knew ,and handed the Tories certain Victory at the next Election , the man is an absolute disgrace !

  2. Tony

    I whole heatedly agree John. A “First Impression” is exactly that – a First Impression. It’s your shop window where you display all your tasty bits to tempt buyers into your store. If you can get them in, not many will leave empty handed.
    As Mike said, the show was Clarkson & Co, without them it simply doesn’t work. The mystery to me is why no other channel has taken the idea on using the original threesome. They did it with Big Brother when it got dropped, look what happened there. Come on Channel 5, get in on this money spinner before someone else does!

    1. John Harrison Post author

      Clarkson, Hammond and May are currently making a car show called The Grand Tour which will appear on Amazon Prime only.

      1. Sam Clarke

        Heard a rumour some time back that their new Amazon show was to be entitled ‘Gear Knobs’…

  3. Cliff Elliott

    I expected it to be just a shadow of the former show, even though the BBC had apparently upped the budget for it considerably to ‘ensure’ it would be a success. So I wasn’t a bit surprised that I was so disillusioned with the first episode that I changed channels well before half way through. I watched the second one on the iPlayer, to see if it was any better, and ended up fast-forwarding through much of it. Didn’t even watch the rest. What a shame such a superb, entertaining show has been lost to the Nation! I bet the BBC management are kicking themselves for their lack of foresight.

  4. Keith Braine

    Chris Evans had a hard act to follow and did not make that first impression work. I thought he was much to loud talking to the camera. Perhaps he thought he was presenting his old show TFI Friday. I

  5. Keith Braine

    I have been watching later episodes on IPlayer and much prefer Matt LeBlanc’s presentation style.
    Also, I have been watching the new 30 minute Top Gear Extra programmes and found them more entertaining.

  6. Mike Chantry

    I agree Evan’s (or the producers) mistake was to try and copy the format with different personalities. However didn’t Clarkson, May and Hammond just copy “Last of the Summer Wine”? They just changed three old blokes sliding down a hill in a tin bath for three middle aged blokes doing similar things in cars. Shame Compo and Clegg are departed as they would have been ideal replacements for Evan’s and LeBlanc.

  7. Den Lovewell

    I only watched the 1st show and to be honest I thought Chris Evans looked like a tramp ! Not that I expect anyone in this type of show to wear a suit but hob nail boots and ill fitting jeans looked like he had been fetched in off the street. Stick to the radio at least we can’t see you.

  8. Terry Harrison

    I did watch the whole series because I am a die hard fan of Top Gear and its about the only programme I always watch. Its a great shame that it didnt turn out to be so good!
    Jezza, Hammond and May just really are a great team. If I need a cheer up now and again, I watch one of the reruns on Dave…always a great laugh.

    Also John, thank you for taking the time to blog as I always read and very much appreciate your straight forward approach. Brings me to your daily email. Great article today (honest wealth comes from creating values)
    I wish every single person in the UK with a brain could read this and get the point.

  9. Gregg

    As a Brit living in the USA the people I know here who watched TG did so because of the presenter JC, NOT the content suggesting that Top Gear is actually pretty boring. Those people would probably start watching it again if Nigel Farage presented it since everybody over here loves him. Aside from NF I cannot think of one UK presenter who would ignite a spark plug this side of the Atlantic presenting it.


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