The Escape Pod’s decade of growth and success

The Escape Pod group leadership team

Ten years ago, when The Escape Pod co-founders Vinny Warren and Norm Bilow decided to hang their shingle, they had no idea what lay ahead.

“It’s a bit like having kids,” says co-founder and creative director, Vinny Warren. “Before you have kids you have a preconceived notion of what being a parent is. Reality is different.”

Ten years later, not only is the Chicago-based agency still going strong — due to powerful creative work for clients including Toys R Us, Wheat Thins and EGO Power+ — but it is buying stakes in other agencies.

To remain competitive in an ever-changing advertising landscape, the agency has bought a minority stake in Chicago-based experiential marketing agency, OutCold, which has created memorable experiences for clients including Toyota, Nordstrom Rack and Jeep.

Not stopping there, The Escape Pod has also formed The Escape Pod Group with digital agency partner, ORA Interactive and OutCold. The group will now encompass 74 people across the three shops.

While the agency is expanding, it still remains as fiercely independent as when it first opened. The co-founders attribute not running into the arms of large holding companies, as many agencies have done, to never losing sight of why they went into business together in the first place.

In Lewis Lazare’s Business Journal article (Feb 22, 2017), Norm Bilow says, “Our business has continued to thrive because no matter what, we have stayed true to our core belief in the power of original ideas to break through the sea of sameness that is pervasive in advertising today.”

OutCold is cut from the same cloth as The Escape Pod, which is another reason the partnership seemed so appealing. Among their outstanding experiential projects, OutCold has done everything from creating pop-up retail shops in Airstream trailers to producing off-road truck driving experiences.

In the same Business Journal article, OutCold CEO Fritz Heffinger say, “The Escape Pod and OutCold share a passion for great storytelling. While Escape Pod is expert at conveying brand narratives through traditional channels, OutCold specializes in telling brand stories through authentic in-person experience.”

As for what clients can expect, Billow added in Diverge Now (Feb 21, 2017), “You can expect to see The Escape Pod’s signature, hard-hitting style of advertising, brought to life in an even more powerful, visceral way–not only through traditional channels but interactive sites, apps and rich, in-person brand experiences.”

When asked where he sees, The Escape Pod Group ten years from now, Warren had this to say, “I woud love to have a presence outside the USA, if only for the sake of keeping things interesting. That’s the thing. Keeping things interesting becomes the goal. Staying the same is death.”

The next ten years should prove to be interesting indeed.

Pictured above (l-r): Mike Kelly, CEO of ORA Interactive; Fritz Heffinger, CEO of Outcold; Norm Bilow, Managing Director of The Excape Pod; Vinny Warren, Executive Creative Director of The Escape Pod; and Holly Heffinger, COO of OutCold

LA-Based Colin Costello writes for film, TV, advertising and of course, Reel Chicago. He can be reached at