Navigating the new normal

The current crisis demands that we keep our heads up and plan for the long-term. Our weekly series examines how the industry can come together to navigate the new normal.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


White noise. The two words that perhaps best describe the media ecosystem we find ourselves collectively facing. In the marketing and creative industries, we are so attuned to being always connected that ‘always on’ is a long-established part of our vernacular. Yet being ‘always-on’ in the current climate may not have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Now more than ever we must look beyond the seemingly urgent in search of the important.

We’ve all seen the barrage of negative headlines or been forwarded alarmist news via WhatsApp groups. A trend which means many in our industry and beyond are reappraising if ‘always on’ is the best way to operate in the current climate.

It is a testament to how profound the impact of the coronavirus crisis has been that we find another phrase has entered our collective vernacular: ‘the new normal’. Yet while we have become increasingly comfortable with the language of our new, unprecedented, existence, finding the tools, tips and outlooks to navigate it have arguably become even more challenging.

With this in mind, as part of an ongoing series, we asked a selection of industry leaders how the industry can better come together to navigate this new normal.

It is our reaction to change that defines us. Change is an energy source and can be an endless source of opportunity.

Sarah Douglas

Sarah Douglas

Sarah Douglas, AMV BBDO.jpg



The old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” continues to ring true even in these unprecedented times. There are enduring qualities in people, businesses and brands that transcend major upheaval.

The world is more expansive and more fluid now that it has been at any moment in human history. Now that we are in this storm, we need to be centred and considered in order to find truths to guide us. 

It is our reaction to change that defines us. Even under these extraordinary conditions, the creative industry should be embracing change as a positive force for good and adapting to this new reality. Change is an energy source and can be an endless source of opportunity.

The businesses and brands that navigate these times successfully will be guided by the north star of empathetic, not self-serving, purpose. They will focus on being true to their empathetic values not just for customers or consumers, but for all citizens. They will be curious to acquire understanding, restless in their desire to give and righteous in their drive to innovate. 

We are a creative company driven to use creativity as a weapon of competitive advantage for our clients. We seek to achieve that as an empathetic, people-first business. Therefore, we are very attuned to what our people need, and we aim to support them in their personal lives as much as in their working lives as they find their way through this. If we can remember to be kind both to ourselves and each other then we will get through this together. This way we will also help our clients because it will lead us to scrutinize their needs even more closely and create work that is more empathetic.

Our clients are using their brand beliefs as a guiding force. It is unbelievably challenging to go that extra mile on brand purpose, but it needs to be done right now. Brands need to act, but actions don’t always have to be grandiose. Humility is a powerful force and one which stands out in moments of crisis.

The new normal should inspire us to develop greater empathy and understanding, not just for how we build brands and run businesses, but for how we live our lives.

We are all trying to make sense of the events as they unfold. But doing this in true partnership, agency and brand working together, is where real strength lies.

Grant Hunter

Grant Hunter

iris - Grant Hunter.jpg

Global ECD


The pandemic we’re currently in is unlike anything we’ve seen before, but certain themes always shine through when adversity rears its head. In the UK, there’s a real sense of the nation pulling together. From the mass applause for the frontline NHS workers to the millions tuning in to Joe Wicks’ morning PE sessions. It’s all very British and it comes with a tangible sense of community. People are genuinely looking out for one another. I imagine the Blitz spirit was not dissimilar. Just as it was then, we face a common enemy, together.

At times like this, brands can step up and act for the greater social good. But they should never lose sight of the fact that it’s not about the brand, it’s about what the brand can do for society. How can you genuinely make a difference? Those with a clear purpose will fare better and brands that act selflessly because it’s the right thing to do will build deep-rooted emotional connections.

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the way brands act during this pandemic will impact future purchase behaviour for the majority of consumers. The deep associations you’ll make with people if you act selflessly as a brand will be way more effective than a shallow, opportunistic gesture.

We have seen brands acting at speed during this crisis. Brands, such as LVMH and H&M, pivoted quickly to produce hand sanitiser and PPE. Meanwhile, Dyson and some F1 teams are making ventilators and oxygen equipment. With the speed and fluidity of the situation comes the need to adapt swiftly. Time Out, which saw its entire offering made irrelevant with the lockdown, went fully digital and rebranded to Time In to focus on home entertainment showing that if you move quickly you can retain your relevance.

Brands that shout about themselves right now will inevitably open themselves up to criticism. Golden arches being separated, or classic logos being spaced out on sites that no one outside the ad industry will see seem more like fodder for award shows than genuine acts of support.

At times like this, brands can step up and act for the greater social good. But they should never lose sight of the fact that it’s not about the brand, it’s about what the brand can do for society.

Grant Hunter

And people are taking note. Crowd sourced sites like Did They Help have sprung up to rate how brands are acting during the crisis, showing the scrutiny and interest that’s out there.

To act meaningfully, brands have to take a step back and look at the different stages of the pandemic. At the moment we are adjusting to the lockdown, a stage in which we’ll see oscillation between peaks and troughs, positivity and negativity. The next stage will be re-evaluation and reflection, as we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The final stage is the re-build, bringing with it a new sense of freedom.

Different problems need different-shaped solutions, from pricing strategy and staff care to new product development and powerful brand narratives that reassure people in these anxious times. We are all trying to make sense of the events as they unfold. But doing this in true partnership, agency and brand working together, is where real strength lies.

Agencies can support remote working with collaboration tools such as Miro, which we’ve used in our Covid Sprint workshops. Miro allows us to facilitate remote collaboration in real-time. I never imagined I’d see people swarming around virtual post notes, but this tool is surprisingly addictive, and it allows us to feel like we’re in a workshop, exchanging thoughts. More importantly, it has helped us get to the heart of clients’ business. By getting different perspectives from different divisions you get a sense of the issues being faced on the ground.

We should look beyond the craziness of the crisis today and remember that we will come out of this. If there are any positives to COVID-19, one could be that we are catching a glimpse of a future with cleaner air and a reduced carbon footprint. It’s been reported that China saw an 18% fall in carbon emissions from February to mid-March. That slowdown saw a reduction of 250m metric tons of carbon pollution, more than half the entire carbon emissions output of the UK. Meanwhile, ICIS predicts a 389m metric ton decrease in air traffic emissions, which is more than France’s annual emissions.

We can only hope that we’ll also emerge from this more unified and with a kinder state of mind. In the long term, this crisis should make us all more considerate of one another and our planet.

The one thing we can say with some degree of certainty is that ‘resilience’ is going to be the overriding concern of clients, consumers and agencies alike.

Nick Docherty

Nick Docherty

Nick Docherty, BETC.jpeg

Global Head of Planning


Predicting the future is a pretty bad idea at the best of times, and these are by no means the best of times. We are facing a recurring viral threat and its dramatic economic fallout. The long-term impact on society is difficult to judge, but the one thing we can say with some degree of certainty is that ‘resilience’ is going to be the overriding concern of clients, consumers and agencies alike.

In fact, it’s likely to be the most widely (over)used phrase in marketing circles since ‘purpose’ made its unwelcome debut a few years back. Dusty old ‘commodity’ brands previously consigned to the dustbin of history will suddenly become sexy, businesses previously based around Just In Time principles will pivot and diversify to protect their supply chains, and agencies smart enough to see the way the wind is blowing will help clients and consumers alike find innovative new ways to become more resilient, whilst taking steps to ‘harden’ their own business model at the same time.

They say that constraint breeds creativity, in which case the coming ‘age of resilience’ will force us all to become very creative indeed if we want to survive and thrive.

Business should be considering how to emerge from this better than they were before.

Alison DaSilva

Alison DaSilva

Alison DaSilva, Managing Director, Purpose & Impact, Zeno Group.jpg

Managing Director, Purpose & Impact

Zeno Group

Darren Young

Darren Young, Director, Corporate and Crisis Communications, 3 Monkeys Zeno.jpg

Director, Corporate & Crisis Communications

3 Monkeys Zeno

Before the world ground to a halt in response to COVID-19, purpose was gaining traction in board rooms and dominated the conversation around the marketing table. Social consciousness has been at an all-time high as consumers everywhere looked to companies to advance progress on issues spanning climate change, equality and immigration. They expect companies to have a more meaningful reason for being and are making decisions about what to buy and where to work with an eye toward supporting those that share their values.

Never has this been more critical than during the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses large and small take actions with the common purpose of helping those most in need. Using their entire business as a force for good.

During one of the worst global pandemics we have ever seen, businesses have been responding with an inspiring sense of urgency and collective sense of purpose. Whether that’s taking care of their employees, customers and supply chain as well as the most vulnerable populations including front-line workers, children, the elderly, and small businesses impacted by the economic implications of the virus. Some responded with philanthropic dollars, while others reimagined their entire business models to produce needed protective gear for frontline workers. We witnessed the private sector quickly driving progress where the government was falling short.

There is no reset button and while we will one day see COVID-19 in our rear-view mirror, we won’t go back to business, or life as usual. Leading with purpose is more than just preparing for a ramp up after the initial crisis fades. It is looking at how this will change fundamental behaviours and the steps that need to be taken to adapt to a new reality. It is also an opportunity to re-assess how to make business better, especially in ways that are either revealed by the crisis or that may have contributed to it happening. This is the new normal.

Amidst the many takeaways from this situation, here are 10 which stand out:

1. Empathetic leadership is a sign of strength. Its value has risen.

2. Small changes to operations can have a big impact. Business has shown that where there is a will, there is a way.

3. Social innovation will thrive, creating a more complex picture for brands.

4. Purpose clearly starts from within and taking care of employees is the most significant way to demonstrate purpose in action.

5. Organisations will reassess vulnerabilities in their supply chains to ensure we can continue to thrive during periods of uncertainty.

6. There is no refuting that climate change is manmade any longer and we should make the changes to our operations and behaviour today to reduce environmental risks in the future.

7. Collective action is needed to address any global crisis. Our inter-dependency is clear.

8. Business models will further evolve, especially in retail and the service sector.

9. Employee mobility works. We will want more of it to protect some of our precious downtime.

10. Our relationship with personal hygiene and personal space has changed.

To effectively plan for the new normal, a company first has to understand what will change and what will stay the same. To do this requires a hard look at the causes of the crisis and how behaviours changed during the crisis.

Companies will want to examine their business model and assess the likelihood of that model changing or adapting in the wake of the pandemic and then prepare to make changes that will ensure that they are able to succeed in the new normal.

Business should be considering how to emerge from this better than they were before, to seek out opportunities to make changes that will more directly connect purpose to business progress, and to ensure that the company is delivering value to all of its critical stakeholders, not just shareholders.

Or perhaps it is just a good time to assess what your brand stands for and how best to ensure that you bring that point of view to life. That is what COVID-19 should teach us all.