Escape Zoom: Session 1 – What will be the main changes to work and business life once this is all over?

Mike Tyson once noted that “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face” – and the Covid-19 pandemic has felt much like a heavyweight right-hook to the plans of businesses and people around the globe. 

But a problem shared is a problem halved and to that end Propeller founder and chairman, Martin Loat gathered a mix of industry luminaries for a group chat under the banner The Escape Zoom – a video conference to share views on the future and to discuss what lasting changes might come out of this crisis.

The conversation started with the issues thrown up by the move to WFH before turning to the bigger issues of marketing, brands and society. Below are some of the points that were made.

Phil Smith – Director General – ISBA

Brands need to ask themselves how they can be genuinely helpful to consumers. Most are trying to balance their practical utility with being on people’s side emotionally.  While this is only affecting how they spend their money in the short term, some of these themes and messages will carry on into the longer term as well. 

There is a recognition from brands that some parts of the media environment are much more flexible and able to better adapt to the current situation than others. 

So one of the things that we at ISBA did some work on was trying to make sure that media owners, where they could, were showing as much flexibility to brands as they sought to reprioritise and re-spend. And, in return, I think what we’ll see is that those brand owners are going to be more keen to return to those who’ve shown that flexibility to them. 

We can’t be immune to the effect this will have on our lives. Clapping for the NHS is great, but when you look at the deep divides in society, this isn’t going to mend them on its own. 

I think the other thing is that, when it comes to advertising and marketing, people are going to be looking at waste with greater scrutiny than ever before. 

Sam Tomlinson – Partner, Customer, Marketing & Media Insight team lead – PWC 

An observation I’ve made is that we’re all kind of trying to replicate our office work at home and office routines at home. We need to adapt a bit so that we don’t block-book our diaries with 30 or 60 minute meetings back to back to back. So far we’ve adapted enough to get by, but we haven’t adapted enough to optimise. 

Gemma Greaves – Outgoing Chief Executive – The Marketing Society

At The Marketing Society, we run around 120 events globally. These are all physical events. So to say that this has been a challenging time is an understatement. We’ve really had to focus on how we can reframe, pivot, be agile at pace as we move everything to a virtual space. 

We’ve created a series called Keep Calm and… (be creative/inspired/resilient)  two weeks ago and turned it round in 24 hours . By the next day we already had over 100 people sign up and world class speakers agreeing to host webinars. Our focus is three fold; our wellbeing, getting inspired and staying connected in our community. These are the things we all need right now. And out of this has come opportunity, never before have we hosted events that all our global community can attend, our virtual events have members from all over the world – I have a feeling this will become the new normal. 

In the short term, brands are focusing on the immediate health of their teams, their staff and supply chains. But some brands are leading the way by doing the right thing.

So, Formula1 is changing their production to ventilators and working with Mercedes, who now are going to produce a thousand a week for the NHS, with McClaren soon following. LVMH, who have stopped their regular perfume productions and are focusing on creating hand sanitizer that they can give out for free. Joe Wicks, as a brand, I think he’s bloody fantastic. He’s brought the nation together – whilst also sparking a surge in ad revenue his way – which is all going to the NHS.

This is the responsibility for brands. We’ve got so much reach, vast tools and skills available to us, and the great brands who are showing the way forward will ultimately thrive. 

Crystal Eisinger – Head of Marketing Strategy & Operations – Google UK

 Before Covid I think conversations around working from home were underpinned by a slight lack of trust. There was a range of opinions (all based on people’s personal preferences) about whether people were as productive when working from home. I hope that after this, the conversation around working from home and productivity goes away. 

Another factor is that people are craving certainty and regularity of communication from leaders internally – whether or not they are saying something new. I think catch ups, regular meetings, updates, and general communication is so important because people are really desperate for connection. So I can understand increased desire for podcasts as part of this frequent over-communicating –  even if in very low fi formats.

Paul Vallois – Managing Director – Nimbletank: Award-winning digital accelerator 

A lot of what we do at Nimbletank is create solutions that are very customer-centric. A big part of that, from a digital perspective, is helping people self-serve. There is naturally a huge demand for this right now. People who aren’t familiar with shopping online are now signing up to their first supermarket deliveries. We’re also seeing changes in other technical adoptions – people who never really used to pay for things with their card are now tapping. This is now a default behaviour and is helped by the increased spend cap being raised to £45. 

Another consequence of course is that everyone’s carbon footprint is being reduced massively. 

What I think will be really interesting is whether this becomes a catalyst for more conscious approaches and more ethical approaches to travel and other aspects of our life, which we are going to have to go without for an unforeseen amount of time. And whether there’s two outcomes. This all blows over and everybody says, my God, I need a holiday, and jets off as quickly as they can.  Or it is a long enough break from that sort of consumerist behaviour where people do actually start to really adapt our behaviour and think, do I need that now?

Bob Wootton – Columnist and Principal at Deconstruction Consulting

I have to say I think we’ve entered a bubble. I don’t think people are suddenly going to become more environmentally friendly – although it’s very worthy to discuss. Two of my closest friends and my friendship group are the most proselytizing about climate and green issues and have been for many years. Their carbon footprint would probably shame all of us on this screen. 

Let’s talk about companies and their behaviours. We’ve already seen some force majeure behaviour that has been everything from absolutely heroic to borderline disgraceful. . And frankly, I think you can almost put the brands on hold because I think it’s the companies behind the brands that are going to get judged. They’re going to get judged by the employees. 

Rose Bentley – Director of Client Services – Propeller Group

I’m encouraged by the consideration we’re seeing from people, the sense of community and the kindness being shown is becoming increasingly evident. I’m optimistic that these behaviours will stick longer than this crisis. Culturally, how you care for people and how you behave through this time will be remembered. The world is watching. 

Neil Cowling – Managing Director – Fresh Air Production

As a business, we’ve prided ourselves on making finely-tuned, multi-layered, documentary podcasts for people and beautiful pieces of audio that take up to six-months to make. 

In the last few weeks, we’ve had to pivot entirely. Now every conversation I’m having is, “yes, all you need is a laptop and a phone and we can put it together for you and get it out instantly”. 

Lots of the requests we’ve had recently have been for internal comms. When a workforce moves from one place to become spread across the country, businesses can realise they actually have very little connection with them. We’re working with a brand, a large mining company, who have twenty-five thousand employees all over the world who are now locked into their mining villages for who-knows-how-long. And the immediacy of the connection is suddenly really important. Many companies have spent a lot of time talking to the outside world about how wonderful the brand is, wanting to be part of a bigger conversation, and neglected having a means to speak to the people they needed to be closest to.

Kate Cox – Chief Marketing Officer – MoneyPenny

 A huge question is how do you keep your business culture going. We work in a culture where we need to get people on the front line, we need to empower them, and we need to keep them excited about coming to work.

We’ve employed 15 new people last week – who all start their jobs with us working from home. How do we make sure they get off to a good start? How can we develop a culture that does that. This is what we are grappling with. 

David Wheldon – speaking on his last day as Chief Marketing Officer –  Royal Bank of Scotland 

I think we are experiencing something here that is going to be the new normal. There will be a number of companies who will suddenly realise that people can work from home and they don’t need so much central London office space and the price that goes with that. They can work in different ways, ways which make it easier for people.

Also I’m loving the return of humanity and loving the fact that people are being nicer to each other, a bit more thoughtful. And you can see that in the streets and you can see the return of civility and loving the fact that everybody loves the National Health Service. We should have always loved the National Health Service.

I hope that this will endure, and that humanity will return front and centre.

While the world may still be on the ropes recovering from the planetary punch of Covid-19, the fight is far from over. To return to another boxing metaphor, brands and businesses should understand that “nobody is gonna hit as hard as life – but it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” 

From their WFH policy, to support for public services, to the general kindness shown, people will remember the businesses who showed the spirit and the courage to take the hit and keep moving forward. And equally, people will remember those businesses and brands that tapped out, didn’t rise to the challenges and meet their responsibilities in this new (hopefully short) period of disruption to normal life and work.