You can also read the original article on MediaPost.

Whether it’s picture-in-picture, squeeze back, pre-roll, social api feeds, or native ads (the list goes on), advertisers and media companies are trying to find ways to satisfy marketing and revenue needs in this ever-changing-non-commercial-watching world. It’s a challenge, to be sure, and sometimes the best laid plans go horribly wrong. That was certainly the case last week for CNN and Applebee’s.

Applebee’s paused advertising on CNN after the network ran picture-in-picture Applebee’s ads during its coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. CNN was harshly criticized on social media “when it went from broadcasting air raid sirens in Ukraine to showing an upbeat picture-in-picture ad for the casual restaurant chain. At one point, the words “RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE” from CNN’s coverage appeared next to a man in the ad dancing.

How could this happen? And what can brands do to make sure it doesn’t happen again when networks like CNN and others cover major breaking news stories?

I can’t assume exactly what went wrong—there are too many variables to take into consideration and it would be wrong to assign blame. However, I would guess that ongoing automation, speed to market, and shrinking teams on all sides were factors. Those are not excuses. Should CNN’s marketing team have sat down to discuss how to manage their advertising products in light of the horrible situation/invasion on Ukraine? Of course. And should Applebee’s marketing team hold CNN accountable? Absolutely!

However, relationships are also at play here. Keep in mind that marketers’ ad campaigns being associated with negative news is not new. Most often when this happens, the client or agency contacts the media outlet with an order to pause a campaign. Sometimes the media outlet acts proactively and takes it down itself. I’ve actually been in this very situation with CNN, and they were proactive, taking our client’s ad off the air. This happened because I worked closely with my sales reps and we had a strong relationship. They understood our client’s business.

The truth is that in the high-tech, digitally powered advertising marketplace we all live in, mistakes are going to happen. Innovation has a price, and the question we all need to answer is how do we keep up and maintain a safe media environment for our clients’ messaging, whether it’s delivered in linear or non-linear formats?

Agencies and advertisers cannot afford to be lulled into thinking that everything’s under control while high stakes innovation is taking place. While we’re all getting increasingly more comfortable with machine learning, programmatic buying, and overall automation, the CNN Applebee’s situation is a reminder that we need to develop as many safeguards as possible up front.

Here are a few suggestions on how agencies can achieve that goal.

-- Monitor the news and social media sentiment daily with the lens of what campaigns they currently have in-market and form a general blacklist policy of what outlets you will consistently avoid.

-- Stipulate all requirements during the RFP process and then again on the IO. The news category has always been more difficult for obvious reasons, requiring ongoing monitoring. For this reason, conduct kick-off calls with media partners to reiterate written documents.

-- Have one-on-one discussions with your media partners. Bring them into your strategy early. Through this process, both teams will generate ideas and identify potential pitfalls that otherwise wouldn’t have surfaced. Nuances that can’t be communicated in a written RFP will surface during one-on-one meetings.

-- Develop a back-up plan that can implemented on short notice.

-- Be agile without sacrificing strategic thinking.

-- Remember that as much as we want traditional and digital media to function in the same world, the fact remains that their day-to-day systems are different. Plan accordingly.

The programmatic approach, machine learning, staff shortages and more have left sellers and buyers struggling to think and act proactively in order to fend off potential mishaps like the Applebee’s/CNN contretemps. New technologies have created a false sense of security and there haven't been enough use cases to think about what this new world communication should look like.

I guarantee CNN is putting best practices in place, now. And yes, the situation requires close scrutiny and constructive criticism. But at the same time always remember that when innovation is in play, mistakes will be made.

Lewis Williams’ impact and influence on advertising goes well beyond his decades of award-winning work. In addition to his leadership, he has mentored and helped shape some of the most influential voices in our industry today.

Recognized as one of Adweek’s 2018 Creative 100, Lewis spent the majority of his career between two iconic agencies; first as SVP, Creative Director at Leo Burnett, and then as EVP, Chief Creative Officer at Burrell Communications. He has also served on jury panels at The One Show, Cannes Lions, and The Clio Awards, just to name a few. Two months into starting his new role at Weber Shandwick as Head of Brand Impact, we were honored to catch up with him as part of our Invisible Shoulders series.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to meet Lewis or hear him speak, you’ll know the presence and wisdom he brings to a conversation. It’s no different looking throughout his portfolio. From household brand names to small nonprofits, Lewis has always found a way to turn simple, human truths into powerful ideas that provoke us to think, act, and oftentimes do both.  

For him, it’s about looking beyond the brief. 

As creatives, we tend to get excited about the big briefs and the contagious energy surrounding them. It’s always seen as an opportunity. But Lewis reminded us that oftentimes it’s the overlooked, unexpected, and often unassigned briefs that can present the biggest opportunities. He looks to the passion it’s pursued with, “If you care enough about something, chances are someone else is going to care about it, too. And when it comes from a place of wanting to make a difference, sooner or later that idea is going to find a home.”

That’s exactly what happened with his Black is Human campaign at Burrell Communications. In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing in 2014, a young copywriter came to Lewis with an idea bigger than any brief. 

“To inspire change, we knew we needed to move beyond assigning blame to creating stories that provoked empathy – and outrage – among both Black and non-Black viewers.” So, Lewis and his team took a small camera crew to a local elementary school in Chicago, interviewing young Black boys about their own aspirations for the future. “Our goal was to show those caught in the crossfire, not as victims but as lovable kids with hopes and dreams; to help America see them as someone’s son, not just a statistic.”  

In one of the spots, a young boy opens up about his fear of getting shot while coming home from school. Soon after the spot aired, this fear became a reality. He survived the shooting, while placing national attention on the campaign. 

Williams recalled the moment he got a call from ABC News wanting to air the spot, “Now you’ve got a national spotlight, and we’re talking about how Black boys are judged harsher. How Black boys are more at risk with gun violence. And now it becomes a much larger conversation about the treatment of young Black men.” Lewis’ team had the perspective to see the problem in a way that much of America couldn't, helping to unravel a truth that millions needed to hear. 

In talking about the importance of perspective and what diverse minds can do for advertising, he pointed out “Being a Black creative is interesting, but then again, being Black is interesting. What you go through as a Black creative doesn’t just happen when you walk inside an ad agency, it happens when you walk through life, each and every day no matter what you do.” He continued, “Think about it, we’re all different no matter who we are. We quickly shift to the matters of race, gender, identity, and more  – which is important – but at the same time, we’re all unique individuals in our own right.” 

I think we can all agree that diversity fuels creativity, and our conversation with Lewis was a reminder to continue pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone. As he said, “It’s ok to have a difference of opinion or come from different places. Diversity opens you up to a different way of thinking, allowing us to see things from both sides. That’s how we grow.”

Please see the full article in Adweek.

Getting a Super Bowl brief is one of those opportunities you dream about as a creative. Nailing it can change the trajectory of your career. Then, about five minutes after getting briefed, reality sets in. Your palms start to sweat. Your brain draws a blank. And the faster you realize what’s riding on it, the faster you realize screwing up isn’t an option.

The second Super Bowl brief I got was for Kia in the fall of 2011 as a freelancer. David Angelo handed us the brief and said, “It needs to have a car driving, great music and must be entertaining.” He challenged us not to overthink it and find the simple truth to bring those elements to life. There’s no perfect formula for memorable storytelling, but the simplicity of his brief stuck with me as the place you always hope to start.

So, before we all start playing Monday morning quarterback on last night’s spots, let’s take a quick step back and give a nod to the work it took to even get there. Every agency team started in different places, went up against different obstacles and ultimately brought it to the finish line.

There was a lot of talk going into Sunday as the year of the Crypto Super Bowl. What stood out for me—above crypto, celebrities, electric vehicles or nostalgia—was that humor made a comeback. And after everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, it seemed to be welcomed by all. Here’s what I loved and two things I thought missed the mark.


Arguably one of the funniest spots this Super Bowl. Larry David made the perfect argument for why you should look at the way forward with an open mind.


This started with a great product truth and unpacked a pretty bold TV spot, getting better and better with each vignette. From the love scene to the casket, this one left me smiling.


What’s not to love here. With a product like this, they let the story tell itself. Well done.

Amazon Alexa

The casting choice played out perfectly onscreen, and kudos to Amazon for leaning into what people fear about their product. I thought it was smart and tastefully comedic.


Even for those who don’t remember the floating DVD screen saver, it didn’t matter. This pulled enough people off their couches to crash the site. Simple, effective and right on point for a technology nobody understands.


What more can you say, Gwyneth Paltrow eating her own candle pretty much stole the Super Bowl. Kudos to the team and client for the bravery.

GM’s “New Generation,” NFL’s “Bring Down the House,” Lay’s’ “Stay Golden,” Toyota’s “Brothers,” Rocket Mortgage’s “Dream House” and GM’s “Dr. EV-il” rounded out my list of almost-loved. Next, when I wished I was in the bathroom:


We’ve gone to the well on this device a few too many times, and Dolly Parton wasn’t enough to reinvent the approach.


I was eagerly awaiting the reboot of a Super Bowl icon but ended up feeling like we were dropped in the middle of a story without explanation. If you missed the teaser you were probably scratching your head. I feel a new campaign is coming, I just wished this spot was as good as its predecessors.

Overall, we saw a lot of goodness in this year’s Super Bowl. Keeping it smart, simple and entertaining seemed to prevail—which we all know is a lot easier said than done. For that, I say thank you to the lucky ones who got their brief and helped bring some fun back to the Super Bowl. We needed it.

From the early days of RP3 to now, we’ve always believed that the only way to create positive RP3 growth was through our people. We’re excited to welcome three new talented additions to our ever-growing team as the agency continues to expand its creative, account leadership, and new business offerings to its growing client base.

Alix Bortnick (Head of Business Development) is smart, kind and 100% unflappable under pressure. Within her title are many roles: strategic lead, overnight expert and project manager. Which means, at any given moment, Alix is driving growth, cultivating talent, facilitating collaboration, nurturing client relationships and distilling creative vision – usually all at the same time. With a history of leading winning pitches and a knack for increasing social footprints Alix has become a master at the art of branding. In her spare time, Alix loves a good round of golf with friends or could be found cheffing up a Michelin-Star-Quality meal for her family, 

Amy Joseph (Account Director) has over 17 years of agency experience working on prominent healthcare, environmental and veterans accounts within the nonprofit space. However, Amy is not only passionate about “doing good” professionally, she also applies her charitable abilities to her own community. While being an avid travel-enthusiast and a huge sports fan, #RaiderNation, Amy is most often seen reading quietly in the corner or out observing people, places, and things. 

Sarah Reed (Designer) is a graphic designer who has been in the workforce since way back in 2019. At the ripe age of 11, Sarah was already honing her craft by designing friends' Myspace profiles. One of the benefits of being a designer, that Sarah loves most, is the breadth of output that comes from working on so many different brands and categories. In her free time Sarah is usually trying out some new recipe, reading the night away or making handmade books. She also spends quality time training her pup, along with her boyfriend. Sorry, we meant to say, “alongside her boyfriend.” He’s already trained. 

Is your brand really ready for the uncertainty tomorrow brings? In November 2021, RP3 CEO Beth Johnson led a one-hour Q&A discussion with a group of distinguished panelists at the Mid-Atlantic Summit. Together they tackled some of the most pressing questions on how brands can begin to anticipate and ride the waves of change today. 

Joining Beth were: Mike Dabadie, Co-CEO of Heart+Mind Strategies; Dyani Hanrahan, CMO of Giant Foods; and Malik Husser, Director of Brand Marketing & Advertising at MGM National Harbor. 

To share the insights they’ve uncovered,we’ve curated and compiled a list of highlights from the forum, for you. Here is a small sample of some of the intriguing questions, answers and key takeaways from their discussion:

Beth Johnson Asked: 

I know we're each facing a ton of change right now. What are you seeing as big picture trends?

Mike Dabadie Replied:

There are a couple of demographic trends that have taken hold… For the first time since the 1900s, the U.S. population has only increased by 0.35%. So we are heading into a population decline. Second, white population is net negative growth; the multicultural population is showing positive growth. [They both have] different needs.

The other is “consumer needs.” Why is JCPenney struggling but Macy's has this ability to understand their customer needs and the unmet needs of those customers? They're connecting to intrinsic consumers and American values at a hyperlocal level. Their brand values being so strong — think about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

We also have a generational shift occurring based on values. When I choose to go to MGM National Harbor or Giant, there are certain values I am using to make my decision. Gen Z and millennials are making decisions more about society; how my decisions impact you. Older generations are making decisions more about “me;” how am I going to benefit.

The last one is that the largest increase in wealth is with multi-culturals — particularly African Americans and Asians. That has a big implication when it comes to how brands address consumer needs.

Beth Asked:

Dyani, has there been a time where you felt that risk was more prominent and that you had to address it with your leadership and with your customers?

Dyani Hanrahan Replied:

Every day in 2020! We've always said at Giant that we are a reflection of our community. Our associates reflect our customers. Four years ago, we took local ownership of the brand; separated it a bit from our parent company to speak with that local voice. Through our advertising, we have made a very intentional effort to reflect the communities we are in. As a marketing team, we said we're going to show every lifestyle; every ethnicity; everything that makes our communities beautiful. Unfortunately, everybody isn't reflected in the media today. So we had the conversation. The risk to our business? It's not a risk. This is what is expected from our customers and I guaranteed we’d gain from this action. And we did.

Beth Asked:

One of the challenges we face as marketers is how do we stay on top of the changing dynamics? 

Mike Replied:

It’s hard. It's changing rapidly and we're in an environment of misinformation and distrust. It is almost impossible to predict human behavior. There are a couple of things we see our agency partners like RP3 do. They are looking across data — not insights, but data — and glean as much information as possible.

And there is an outside-in mindset; not an inside-out. They’re not approaching the consumer saying, "You've got to fit into my system." They say, "How can we take our systems and bring that to how the consumer is living their life?” Agencies like RP3 are transforming themselves this way — aggressively moving from a creative orientation to a strategy orientation. Clients are asking agencies to do that.

Beth Asked:

Mike, you also work with a variety of just wonderful brands, helping guide them and translate insights into actions. Any examples you can share about how great brands embrace change?

Mike Replied:

Here’s a good example. How many people here have Amazon Prime? How many use it predominantly for shopping? How many use it predominantly for streaming? That's the problem for Amazon. In Japan, for example, they use Prime predominantly for streaming. But in Brazil, it might be predominantly for shopping. They're not getting transference of the experience or leveraging revenue between the two.

Why are there these barriers? Could it be cultural? They went at solving this through a lot of A/B testing on the site. They were trying to force consumers going there to shop, to consider streaming. If you were streaming, you’d receive content about shopping. It was causing a backlash; consumers got irritated.

It was really causing a problem. So they did a lot of observational online ethnography. They watched how we consumers were behaving. What we did for them is customer journey work, in six countries, to understand these barriers. In Brazil, for example, it might be an issue with safety. ‘I'm not going to shop because I'm worried that the package on my doorstep is going to get stolen.’

I was fascinated with this project because I was thinking, "Amazon has all the information they could possibly want. They have all our behavior; all of it. Why would they come to a company like us?” We asked them that question and found that they weren't putting themselves in the shoes of the customer, nor was their agency. They needed to bring the customer in.

Beth Asked:

I always love to ask this question because I do think that we are in a very challenging time. …When you're facing tough decisions,…what inspires you?

Malik Husser Replied:

I look for people using authentic messaging. Last year, Black Lives Matter was everywhere and everyone wanted to pull their brand into the conversation. Some didn't do it authentically. Nike did it; amazing. Procter & Gamble did a really good job. When our employees would ask me, "How are we going to have a consumer-facing message on Black Lives Matter?" I said, "No." Not because we can't get engaged; because we don't need to just get into the conversation. What we can do is make sure we're using influencers who look like our community on social media.

I'm really into lifestyle, fashion, street wear, and entertainment. I was just able to open a streetwear store for MGM. They allowed me to do this because I used insights. I said, "This is what we should do — not only in Maryland; we should shift this to the headquarters in Vegas." They're now going to open a Vegas store. The name of the store is Shift Streetwear and Apparel. We carry Nike. We carry Supreme. We work with brands that are authentically talking to audiences that we want to connect with in a real way.

Dyani Replied:

I am lucky to get inspiration from the team I work with. Surround yourself with people who are going to push you, who think differently than you. A lot of what we went through during Black Lives Matter is that push and pull. What's the substance behind what we do? How are we building programs that are going to invest in this movement — not just for the heightened attention, but for the long term?

Mike Replied:

From our research assistants to my co-CEO, I find inspiration in giving them a safe space to tell me anything. And they tell me everything — things I don't want to hear sometimes, but need to hear. The other is the bookstore. There’s a book called Transforming Insight that just came out…specifically for agencies and clients. Market research five years ago is very different than today. One insight is to trust my instincts. Because data, insight and information can overwhelm you.

RP3 is excited to announce our mid-year new client roster. Follow us on social to stay up to date on all of our newest work with this group in the months ahead.

We are so excited to announce promotions for two of our high achievers.

Jina has elevated her role to Operations Manager, where she will continue to oversee client project management while taking on additional responsibilities to ensure seamless and effective internal operations.

Chandler will be advancing her role to an Associate Creative Director, where she will help lead creative development and execution of campaigns across RP3’s roster of clients.

Congratulations to both!

Tim Hurt joins Bethesda-based RP3 as Director of Creative Technology, further strengthening RP3’s commitment to deliver powerful, seamless, effective creative across the entire brand experience. Hurt will oversee all digital deliverables, including interactive, mobile and web-based media.

Hurt is known for digital production of complex projects for top-shelf brands using classic advertising tenets combined with the latest platforms and techniques and says the term “creative technology” can seem redundant, as most creative solutions have a digital component. “Sometimes technology needs to be invisible, playing a background role in a user experience. There are also moments when technology can surprise people in unexpected and memorable ways.”

Executive Creative Director Dylan Bernd lauds Hurt for his creative intuition, saying, “He is an innovative thinker, foremost, wrapping his head around an idea first, then executing it.” Bernd, who leads the agency’s creative vision, adds, “Tim knows how to take content and deliver it how and where people consume it. He will have a touch point on everything we do for our clients to bring culturally relevant communications to as many people as possible.”

RP3 is one of the D.C. area’s leading integrated agencies whose roster includes well-known brands such as Giant Food, Children’s National Hospital, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits and Norfolk Southern. 

Hurt, who holds a B.A. in visual arts, computer animation and interactivity and a master’s degree in advertising and digital technology from the VCU Brandcenter, has a deep resume that demonstrates his comfort level on both the client and agency sides of the house. Former clients include PenFed, Boys & Girls Clubs, WMATA and Capital One. 

He says, “With new channels and platforms appearing all the time, we have exciting new ways to connect with audiences in a more tailored, data-informed way, creating reciprocal relationships with consumers.” He adds, “RP3 has great clients who take the opportunities created for them” and says he looks forward to “engineering serendipity” for all of them. 

Hurt’s first day was July 26, 2021.

RP3 Agency is honored to announce winning a SILVER Telly Award for our work on Giant Food's "Little Things Are Giant" campaign. RP3 is grateful for the trust that our clients share with us, making accomplishments like this possible.

The Telly Awards honors excellence in local, regional and cable television commercials with non-broadcast video, television programming and digital video. Receiving over 12,000 entries annually, from all 50 states and 5 continents, Telly Award winners represent work from some of the most respected advertising agencies, television stations, production companies and publishers from around the world.

View the Awards Page

It wasn’t too long ago that the old saying, “don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” might have elicited a laugh or a benign knowing sigh of agreement. Then the COVID-19 pandemic and the grim results over the past year gave this phrase new meaning. The stakes for a long-term, healthy (in all senses of the word) recovery from the pandemic could not be higher, or more final. “Not letting a good crisis go to waste” is no longer a wry aphorism, but something deeper, more personal. We have nothing short of an obligation to rebuild in a fundamentally different way. And build something newer and better than before.

Which is why the response from the travel and hospitality industry is all the more puzzling. Countless jobs lost, businesses closed for good, entire sectors such as in-person meetings and events that might never fully recover. And what has the industry done? If you read even just a few posts on LinkedIn from travel industry professionals, what you come away with is a sense that the recovery is being driven by collective wishful thinking — “say it and they will come.” Influencers are taking note and heading back to Instagram posting the very same type of content they did into early 2020, hopeful that their somewhat questionable livelihoods will return with the click of a shutter. The entitlement cabal between points bloggers and loyalty programs is busy snapping up discounts and freebies, more concerned with the “stuff” than the memories. And they’re getting less too, as customer service contacts are either being stripped away or it can take up to 41 hours to reach a live elite customer service rep (Source: View From The Wing, 5/11/21). Not to mention that basics such as housekeeping might suddenly be confined to by-request-only (Loyalty Lobby, 5/24/21), if they can even find staff to answer the request (The Wall St. Journal, 5/18/21).

The reality, though, is that while travel brands would like their guests to think that everything will soon be back to “normal” (my winner for the latest word to lose all meaning), these same brands have used the crisis to scale back in favor of greater profitability. Some executives cite “green shoots of optimism,” referring of course to booking data on a report or maybe additional flow-through from the reductions in service, not really focusing on the fact that the data is a real person just wanting to be taken care of (didn’t we learn over the past year that behind the staggering numbers were mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends?!). Some in the C-Suites have proudly proclaimed they will drive for higher margins, while others are shifting their strategy toward more of a franchise model, offloading direct responsibility for pesky concepts such as brand standards, which in practice have always been viewed more as a cost — especially in the upper end of the industry — than a source of competitive advantage.

Which is also why the latest forecasts from industry leaders that the luxury segment will come roaring back to pull the industry out of the chasm are also puzzling (The Future of Travel, Tripadvisor/Accenture, 5/21). First, it’s hardly news — anyone who has looked at historical data from The Luxury Institute and others knows that the affluent segment has always come back first and most strongly. Second, they are trying to retrofit the same old offerings to a “new” emerging guest, when the guest really isn’t “new” at all. Upscale travelers have known that suites and villas offer more space and privacy for some time now. And third, what these executives are really hoping is that the affluent traveler has somehow forgotten the traditional aspects of craftsmanship, quality and service, and become fully conditioned to less.

The one perspective that seems to be missing lately is that of the guests themselves. The hospitality business is becoming far more the latter than the former. Even brands such as Rosewood and Belmont, with unique pedigree and backing, seem content to largely play by the previous rules, confining the introduction of new experiences to opening those properties that broke ground well before the crisis. These are brands that once — and that could and should once again — capture the traveler’s imagination rather than just her wallet. I can’t help but think of Aman and Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, maybe even Auberge, as they seem to be playing a Hermes-like long game, and wonder what brilliant surprises they might have in store, even if it’s a continued focus on excellence, which would be a surprise indeed in the current environment.

Against this increasingly impersonal tide, the exceptions easily stand out, even the small ones — the real “green shoots.” A story from a single Kimpton property about a poet seated in the lobby, before an old typewriter, waiting to do nothing more than listen to a guest’s story before turning it into something even more magical. Auberge thoughtfully noticing and acting on guest behaviors with personality and sincerity — an idea for a new snack here, a perfectly laundered and returned shirt left behind there (Auberge Resorts Carves Out Luxury for These Times, Skift, 2/23/21). And American Express Centurion Lounges initiating new policies to try and return some semblance of serenity to their airport lounges.

If fresh thinking were as plentiful as wishful thinking, travel and hospitality would be poised for a bright future and sustained, strong growth. What one cannot help but wonder is what will happen after the first few trips when travelers realize they’ve come back to less than they had before.

Some fuel for thought as we head into a crucial period:

In the end, the travel industry will of course survive. Maybe even thrive in the immediate post-COVID environment. The desire to escape, explore, learn, be pampered, gather with friends and colleagues, is simply ingrained too deeply in our collective psyches. Long-term success, however, may only come when industry leaders, including key stakeholders such as hotel owners and asset managers, start demanding more of their brand experience and marketing teams and less of their customers and guests. Because in a post-crisis world, less is unfortunately what we might be giving them.

Interested in exploring a “more” mindset and how RP3’s approach to breaking category conventions can help ensure your brand doesn’t end up with less? Contact