It was one of the worst screw-ups in the history of the Oscars. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and its predecessor firms have been tallying Oscar votes and preparing “the envelope, please” for 83 years. The assignment gives the firm access to entertainment power brokers and burnishes its brand. That is, until last night.
What would you do if your firm had made such a big blooper and gave the wrong envelope to the presenters who first announced that La La Land had won the Best Picture Oscar when it was actually Moonlight that won? First, admit the mistake immediately and promise to rectify the situation. PwC did the right thing when it immediately issued this statement:
We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.
We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.
However, if I had to nitpick, PwC used the passive voice throughout as New York Times columnist Ron Lieber noted in his tweet: “@ronlieber: And the Oscar for mealy-mouth apologies goes to PricewaterhouseCoopers, with 4 (count em!) passive verbs!” How about PwC writing, “we made the error” and not, “the error that was made,” as if someone else did it.
Crisis Communications Tips
So are you prepared to handle a crisis? The Newman Group, executive presentation and media/message training company, advises taking these steps to avoid a crisis when something goes terribly wrong for your company:
- Be alert for anything that could impact negatively on your business.
- Develop a plan for your crisis team establishing communication channels and assignment of duties. Make a list of all those who should be notified.
- Be sure your spokespersons are media trained to handle reporter inquiries.
- Review the plan periodically. Select a crisis scenario and talk it through.
- Update the notification list.
- Recognize a crisis when it comes.
- Contact key audiences quickly with accurate information about what has happened. Tell them what steps have been taken, and will be taken, to address the situation and how the incident may affect them.
- Encourage employees and customers to refer media calls to your media relations spokesperson so that they do not become part of the rumor mill and pass on inaccurate information to the media.
- Let employees know how and when you will provide updated information. This boosts morale and allays concerns so that employees can concentrate on their own responsibilities.
- Tell employees what they can do to help.
- Reward/acknowledge heroes, those who went out of their way to resolve the crisis.
- Investigate preventable causes and include results in best practices.
- Access perceptions and take steps to restore trust with all key audiences.
By following these tips you may find not only a way to rectify a crisis but potentially avoid one to start with.