Escape Zoom: Session 2 – Is there a “new normal”?

Escape Zoom: Session 2 – When do you think your business sector will start to look like it did before – or is there a “new normal” that means things won’t be the same again?

Life comes at you fast. Over the last few months, we’ve seen the global dynamic shift at an unprecedented pace, bulldozing business sectors and daily routines alike. 

Many people and businesses are left asking the same question: Do I rebuild for the market as it was? Or do I build for the future as we see it? 

In our second Escape Zoom session, Propeller founder and chairman Martin Loat put this question to our (virtual) room of business leaders and industry luminaries, asking when they believed their sectors will return to business as was usual – or if we are entering a new era and a ‘new normal’. 

Here’s what they had to say:

Lawson Muncaster – Joint Owner / Managing Director – CityAM

It has been a traumatic four weeks for me. On the 4th of March I was in Amsterdam leaving a board meeting with positivity and optimism – and by the 17th of March I found myself closing CityAM- the paper down for an unknown amount of time before escaping back in Scotland to my family home . 

I’m naturally an optimist but right now I’m a pessimist. There is going to be tremendous suffering for business over the next months  – and it stems from a systematic failure of the system by those in Westminster. 

We’ve heard a lot of buzzwords from the Chancellor – but what we need is a radical change in the dynamic of business loans. Banks are hiding behind European Rules to stop money moving to SMEs and businesses. They don’t want to take this risk. There is no interest or appetite for banks to lend to anyone outside of RBS which is 62% state owned. 

As a publication we have investigated this, we know that this can be fixed, but it needs to be fixed. Every day that goes by, we are fucking PLC Britain immensely. 

I believe in capitalism with a purpose. In the future, we will need brands and businesses to better balance profitability and purpose. Legal&General I think have done this well – but that’s one company in the FTSE100. We need at least 50.

For us at CityAM, I know we will likely not produce a newspaper until the first of September. In July, August and September we’ll see brands and businesses gearing up for what will be a pivotal Q4. 

My final note is that we should remember that this bit – the lockdown – is the quiet before the storm for business. It’s when the doors open again and the empathy fades we’ll all be fighting like dogs to move forward.I hope the empathy we have seen remains. But we need real leaders to do that. 

“The industry has been moving toward touchless tech to replace human interaction for years – concierge services by app, robots delivering room service, wayfinding technology for airports.”

Carolyn Corda

Ashley MacKenzie – Founder and CEO – Fenestra 

It all depends on what recovery looks like. If we see a ‘V’ shaped bounce – and this is just a matter of a few months – then I think businesses and people will very quickly return to life as we knew it. 

The markets are designed to protect themselves – they don’t want uncertainty. As a business owner the future to me looks like this: Q2 is dead. Q3 will hopefully give a picture of what we can expect the future to look like. Q4 is the new normal – which may be very similar to the old normal. 

On the other hand, if this lasts longer than 9 months, then very few of us will have our jobs and we will likely see grand societal change. 

But whether we enter a ‘new normal’ or return to an old one, we need to reassess our values and what is important. I’m sitting here in my house totally useless. My safety is totally dependent on people putting their lives in danger for £23 grand a year. Hopefully this will change how we think about and value the NHS and what is really important. 

Carolyn Corda – CMO – ADARA: The world’s richest data co-op providing the travel and tourism industry insights into the needs and wants of consumers in travel 

At Adara we are the world’s richest travel data co-op – and so we can see exactly how much this is impacting the travel industry. 

We’ve witnessed the huge impacts that events such as 9/11 and the 2008 market crash had on our sector. We’re treating this crisis as about 9 to 10 times worse. Every week our industry is taking a $22 billion hit. 

So what does the future look like? What we know is there is an innate human desire to connect and explore – and this won’t change. 

But we can expect behaviour and attitudes to change. Will people want to be in casinos, sitting at slot machines used by hundreds of people a day? What about cruises? You expect air travel and hotels to change in-line with these concerns too. 

The industry has been moving toward touchless tech to replace human interaction for years – concierge services by app, robots delivering room service, wayfinding technology for airports. Health safety concerns will accelerate this touchless trend. Consumers will want tech that reduces human interaction, and they want that tech to be controlled from their own device or by voice. 

Greg Miall – UK MD – Antenna Amplifier (SE Europe media owner and accelerator)

For some businesses this is a time of huge opportunity with sales going through the roof.

But for others it is difficult. We work with one business who had their best ever month in February – and then suddenly everything fell off a cliff, despite them expecting to be relatively unaffected. Across all media businesses, including ours, there has been a huge drop in advertising revenue.

Nobody is buying cars and everyone is buying meal-kits. Home-made bread is rising and oil is in difficulty. This crisis shows that the winners and losers are not what you would expect. 

“The future has become very real very quickly, and few were prepared. So there is now a huge uptake on things like CX, UX and e-commerce tools. These were perceived as bolt-ons or things to upsell – now brands are desperate for them. ”

Justin Pahl

Neil Christie – CEO – Wieden + Kennedy

The unfortunate truth is there will be no unified outcome for business – it’s going to vary market to market, client to client. 

But we do know that if this lasts for months, things simply won’t be able to go back to the way they were. I think in advertising, agencies who rely on a high percentage of project work will face serious issues. 

From our perspective, chatting to our team at our China office it feels like they are on the other side of this now – and this is encouraging. But it’s hard to predict how things will play out over here. 

Jim Prior – UK CEO – Superunion, WPP branding agency network

We’ve been through a long period of saying things are going to change in the future. I think this crisis is the catalyst for that change. 

Brands need to ask how they reposition for a new world. Digital transformation is now more than an item on an agenda – it’s how we are all living every day. 

I believe we will emerge from this as more efficient businesses and more purposeful brands.

Justin Pahl – UK CEO – VMLY&R, global brand and customer experience agency 

For brands, it’s not just about when will the economy bounce back, but what will our services and our products mean? Will people want to go to the cinema and head to a packed swimming pool? Our clients are asking us to help them pivot and identify new ways to reflect their brand. 

The future has become very real very quickly, and few were prepared. So there is now a huge uptake on things like CX, UX and e-commerce tools. These were perceived as bolt-ons or things to upsell – now brands are desperate for them.

And if businesses double down on future capabilities, the current crisis could be a great accelerator for business.

Ally Owen – Brixton Finishing School

Covid has shone a light on the inequalities that exist: it’s clear at every level of society who is getting screwed, and who is okay. 

At Brixton Finishing School, we’ve lost about 60% of funding from sponsorship as our partners can’t pay. 

Those people who are digital natives, who are bearing the brunt of this, are the future for brands. Both as consumers and employees. We need our industry to help them through this time. 

We have launched an emergency crowdfunder to tackle this challenge. The fund will protect the diverse talent pipeline for our industry and help students fulfill their potential in these uncertain times. Support us here

“The big challenge for leaders is moving from a growth mindset to a cash mindset. Changing your behaviour is one thing – but changing your fundamental thoughts and beliefs is a different matter. ” 

Suki Thompson

Shelley Hoppe – Spoon, global change communications agency 

It’s so different from client to client – uncertainty means that there is no uniform response. We’ve got six offices across the Nordics, and every single office has had a different experience each week. It’s very strange being on tenterhooks with this rapid change – whilst also being stuck in your living room. 

A key positive is that many businesses are realising that flexibility is easily possible. Some clients are battening down hatches and reducing work – while others are thinking of new ways of doing things and ways to bring people together. Live Streams, online events, things like what we are doing now! 

Suki Thompson – Founder/CEO at Let’s Reset and Exec Dir Xeim/Oystercatchers

A year ago we heard a lot of conversation about the challenges of digital transformation,  flexible working and wellbeing linking to commercial outcomes, – a lot of people who weren’t listening then are listening now.

The big challenge for leaders is moving from a growth mindset to a cash mindset. Changing your behaviour is one thing – but changing your fundamental thoughts and beliefs is a different matter.  

It will take a long time to go back to normal. But it will be even more of a tragedy if we don’t see some of the change of behaviour stick – we need to think how we can transform our company culture as we evolve our businesses, post coronavirus.  


To finish our earlier quote: “Life comes at you fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it”. The crisis we face has presented many challenges – but it has also given people and business leaders a chance to pause and take a fresh look at the world and develop a plan for a new – or not so new – future. 

The conversation ended with a few thoughts on the technicalities and practicalities of getting back to normal and the bottlenecks that would ensue.

Our chairman and Escape Zoom host, Martin Loat, joked that he was worried how he would manage the competitive waiting list for appointments at his hot stone therapy consultant when this is all over. Truly uncertain times.