What can we learn about reputation management from PWC’s Oscar Snafu?

Posted by Tracy Hartman

Mar 7, 2017 11:43:45 AM

The Winner Is... Oscar_Snafu.jpegWhere were you when the Oscars Best Picture goof up occurred? I personally didn’t see it live, but it was just as impactful and horrifying when I saw the clip the following morning on several media outlets. I know I wasn’t the only one to think “did that REALLY just happen?”

While my heart goes out to the La La Land crew who thought they were the Best Picture winner for a couple of minutes, it’s hard to feel sorry for them after they were nominated for a record 14 Oscars, and walked away with 6 wins including Emma Stone for Best Actress.

On the other hand, the crew of Moonlight were appropriately stunned after they found out they were the true winners. It’s safe to say that no one will forget this moment, so much so that there will be significant interest to see this movie, and in that sense, it’s an added benefit.

However, the real losers of the night were Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) and the Academy. You could argue that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway should take some responsibility, as they should have paid closer attention to the contents of the winning envelope. In fact, Beatty clearly had some doubt with his puzzled look, yet he gave the card to Dunaway who proceeded to blurt out the name of the (wrong) movie. But, at the end of the day, PWC handed them the wrong card, and the buck stops there.

PWC’s reputation is built on trust. In fact, Brian Cullinan of PWC, who can be blamed for the snafu due to his attention right before the incident being on twitter, tweeting out happenings of the evening, ironically touted PWC’s 83-year relationship with the Oscars just days before the event. He claimed that the long-lasting relationship had lasted because they had always done a good job and the Academy had “absolute trust in us and what we do.”  Whoops.

If you’ve read any of my blogs about crises, you know that bad stuff will happen to every company at some point in time — there’s almost no avoiding it. Your reputation and integrity are at stake. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared.

Here’s what PWC did right in response to their blunder:

  • They took full responsibility and didn’t try to divert the blame onto someone or something else. They admitted it was human error.
  • They apologized, not just for their mistake, but also to all parties involved: the cast and crew of La La Land and Moonlight, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Jimmy Kimmel, ABC, and the Academy.
  • They didn’t hesitate in doing either of the above.

However, here’s where PWC went wrong:

  • Too much multitasking. Why is the key person (Cullinan) who is watching over the distribution of the envelopes to the stars that are announcing the winners, also tweeting? I’m all for multitasking, but this is a good example of the need to delegate such tasks to keep everyone’s focus where it needs to be.
  • Not enough behind their words. While the Academy is investigating what happened and will take “appropriate action” based on the results, I think everyone would like to see that PWC took action against Cullinan. This could mean either firing him or at least reprimanding him more overtly.

While most of us will not have the millions of people watching us when we experience our crisis like PWC and The Academy did, the time will come when we will experience a crisis and our audience will be watching (the community, customers, or the like) and you must be prepared. Your crisis communications plan should account for the 4 W’s:

  • Who: Designate your CEO or other executive to be ready to respond and take accountability — this should be in your crisis communications plan now.
  • What: Try to think of the types of crises you might encounter and draft up rough contingency plans for dealing with them.
  • When: Don’t hesitate, come out with a statement or some kind of action very quickly. Every minute that goes by with no statement will chip away at your reputation.
  • Why: Think of the questions that your audience will ask you. Put yourselves into their shoes after your crisis. Don’t get fluffy with your answers so you don’t have to deal with issues. Your audience will respect you more if they know you’re being completely honest.

Reputation management is something that is key to your brand and not something to be taken lightly. While we never like to think we will experience the magnitude of a blunder that PWC did on Oscars night, it’s extremely important to have the mindset that it might. Being prepared will help you weather the storm.


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Topics: Public Relations, Brand reputation