PwC Oscars Moonlight La La Land

OMG! Oscar Blooper Tarnishes PwC Brand

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:

Pre-Crisis

  • 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.

In-Crisis

  • 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.

Post-Crisis

  • 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.

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Comments

  1. Major bloop BUT nobody was hurt. People make mistakes even when they have the best intentions. It is embarrassing.

    I like your reference to their statement;

    “We apologise for the error that was made.”

    It is as if they are not taking ownership whilst trying to find the “person” who made the mistake.

    Contingencies should be put in place for when major errors are made. Complete ownership should be taken and the error rectified as soon as possible.

    • Phoenicia — yes no one was physically hurt. But, it did take away the glory somewhat from the film that actually won. Many in the audience had already left and I’m sure a lot of people watching on TV had already turned off their sets.

  2. Lots of great points, Jeannette. I agree that the apology could have been stronger, but as you said, at least PWC acknowledged the mistake very quickly. Unless I missed it, they didn’t have 2 CPAs come out during the show with a briefcase containing the winners’ names. Someone at PWC is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief for that small gift. The comedians would have had even
    more of a field day with this if the typical accountants had walked out on the stage during the Oscar ceremony.

  3. Well written, Jeannette. I was horrified when I saw this on the news (I don’t watch the awards shows) on multiple levels.

    I get that we are human and mistakes happen, but agree with you that it’s all in how we handle our errors that makes or breaks us as ethical people. Own it, PWC.

    • Rosemary — oh boy, they own this one, even if they used weasel words in their apology. It will not look good to their clients, for sure.

      • Truly–that’s not really an apology, is it? I don’t think it’s honest if I give an apology that way just like if I receive one that way. Own what we do–good or bad. It’s better for both parties! And yes, I sure screw up sometimes!

        • RoseMary — It was a sort of wimpy apology which people pointed out. The PwC chairman did finally take full responsibility.

    • Susan — it was awful. My nephew and his wife (visiting) and I just watched the whole episode at the awards ceremony and it’s even more shocking seeing it a second time. Someone at PwC will pay for this mistake, but most likely not a partner.

  4. Talk about grace under pressure when it comes to how the La La Land producer handled what happened. This is the first time in years I didn’t watch the Oscars live and I missed this as it happened. Just my luck. It really is quite shocking such a big mistake could be made. I’m with you on nitpicking the passive verbs 😉

    • Jeri — It was shocking and I think the PwC people were simply paralyzed at first and that’s why it took so long to rectify the mistake.

  5. I have on more than a few occasions been the ‘go-to’ person in the event of a crisis. Thankfully, I never had to deal with anything remotely this big! I didn’t watch the show, but the clip of the mistake is all over the internet and my heart really goes out to everyone involved, including the accountant who royally screwed up because he / she will never live it down! Excellent advice on how to properly handle something like this.

    • Marquita — unfortunately, those two PwC partners have damaged their reputations with clients and within the firm. If they can’t even pass out an envelope without making a mistake, I’d be cautious as a client in letting them manage my business.

  6. Likely, no one ran the Tweet through Grammarly check. I often write incorrectly like this and Grammarly catches it.

    I’m not really into all things celebrity so my husband and I recorded the event. Personally it annoys me when people nitpick things said in Twitter, so the Tweet doesn’t bother me.

    Decades ago, I company I was with DID make a huge blunder. I remember getting calls from some of my best customers and angry would be an understatement. It was initially (first few hours) a crisis and then when the C level folks go together, and briefed all of us with a customer-centered plan for every person on board. I don’t believe (my memory might not be right) we lost one customer. Mistakes happen with everyone.

    What you say is true, it’s how a mistake is handled that can make a difference.

    • Patricia — mistakes do happen to all of us. Luckily, they don’t happen in front of 32.9 million viewers!

  7. The most difficult part of crisis communication is to be prepared for anything that could possibly go wrong. No matter how prepared most companies think they are something that had not even occured to them goes wrong. The only thing they can do then is to apologize sincerely and do everything it can to compensate people involved and sort out the crisis to the best of their abilities. A huge mistake is to avoid the press and start telling lies. Another blunder would be to have a spokesman/woman who looks dishonest deal with the matter.

    • Catarina — the first rule of crisis communications is to get all the bad news immediately — and not dribble it out a little out a time, hoping that you can keep some of the carnage a secret.

  8. Jeannette loved the tips you have mentioned. Potentially avoiding the crisis is an apt choice like we say prevention is better than cure.

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Sushmita — so true. They shouldn’t have relied on a single person to get the right envelope. There should be a back-up person who does a second check to ensure the first person is correct.

  9. This reminds me of what happened at the Miss Universe pageant with Steve Harvey. I was watching television and also heard that people in theaters in London had a little fun when they played the beginning of La La Land for guests who were expecting to see Moonlight. People make mistakes and then we forget about it and move on, but in the meantime, you’re right about having a crisis plan.

    • Danielle — I thought the London prank was quite funny. What a mistake and the partners will have a stain on their reputations for a long time.