Crisis And Reputation Management - Oscars Gaffe What Will Happen Next?

One of the most striking gaffes in the history of the Oscars occurred yesterday. The wrong winner was read out in the awarding of the Best Picture category. It was a massive moment and has been a leading global news story. Watch Sky News here to see it all again – it’s very awkward to watch.

These things happen you might say. It ought not to be exaggerated. We all make mistakes.  Indeed we do. Ultimately, you may well ask, has there been any lasting damage to brand Oscars? Certainly nobody is questioning the Oscars’ position as the foremost movie awards in the world and everyone is talking about them today. Yes – the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has had a lot of press coverage today. Yet they will not be happy.

This was meant to be an Oscars ceremony that highlighted progress in diversity following last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign. This was meant to be the Oscars ceremony where all the nominees for Best Foreign Film had joined together to ensure a statement was made on the night challenging President Trump’s controversial travel ban. Had this gaffe not occurred, there would not have been a total overshadowing of the real winner – Moonlight – a film about a gay black man in America – and what could have been a good news headline for the Oscars about diversity in film.

The footage of the mix up last night is truly excruciating – especially when you see the speech of the winner that wasn’t.  Whilst this year’s mix-up over the Best Picture announcement can be put down to simple human error it is a crisis that will not threaten the reputation of the Oscars as long as control is exerted over the story.  That means that PLMR predicts that shortly there will a change to the position of PWC as the appointed body responsible for the counting and auditing of the votes of the 7,000 Members of the Academy – however that change is manifested remains to be seen. But it will come.

A crisis is an event that threatens the reputation or viability of an institution or individual. It is PWC and not the Academy itself that is under pressure here.  Handling a crisis starts with a high speed evaluation of the fundamentals so that an attempt can be made to control the damage, predict the future course of events, and so that the individual or institution or brand or product under threat can – in simple terms – put itself in a better place.

This situation has already been clarified.  The presenters last night of this particular category were given the wrong cards. As I said on Sky News today, the presenters could have dealt with it more effectively and been more nimble and improvised more , but all the same the gaffe is the fault of PWC one of the world’s largest accountancy and professional services firms. So PWC has the problem and as I write this afternoon crisis talks are taking place in the USA.

And no wonder – because look at what PWC says about the Oscar contract:

“The reason we were even first asked to take on this role was because of the reputation PwC has in the marketplace for being a firm of integrity, of accuracy and confidentiality and all of those things that are really key to the role we have with the Academy and counting these ballots,”

It gets worse because the more one looks into it, the more PWC looks a bit complacent.  I predict here that they are going to get fired.  Look at what PWC said about whether their contract with the Oscars is ever put to competitive tender.

“As long as our relationship is good and strong and we do a good job, which we always do, the Academy has been pleased I think with how we’ve been involved. It’s such a long-term relationship that we know intricately how everything works, the timing of it, the process that we use, and they have absolute trust in us and what we do.
“It’s just been a good, long-standing relationship. We hope we’re doing this 83 years from now as well.”

And then look at the PWC pledge:

At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. It is this focus which informs the services we provide and the decisions we make.

So no wonder that the PWC crisis management machine is in full swing. It has to be. The swift and fulsome PWC apology has the hallmarks of a global brand seeing that it needs to move quickly to gain control of the story. They have promised a full inquiry. It is the right thing to do.  The incident suggests that the systems in place for the awards are inadequate.  From a systems perspective – and PLMR is often involved in trying to communicate or deal with systems failure – it is fascinating that only two people seem to have been involved in the counting of the votes.  The Oscars last night shows the value of having a wider team in place to ensure checks and balances and of guarding against human error like this. Human error will always happen. It’s the systems to deal with it, the checks, triple checks, rehearsals for what would happen (were there ever any rehearsals for a this kind of mistake we ask?) that make the difference. PWC sells itself on detail.  It’s the detail that decides crises – it’s the six inches in front of your face if you like – that is the difference between winning and losing.

Watch this space – PWC will take action. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will take action, and it’s highly likely that they will tender or cease their relationship with PWC.  Then perhaps, once the crisis is managed, once the media have the next phase of the story, everyone might get back to talking about the most diverse group of Oscar winners since the awards began in 1929.  Last week’s 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report showed that BME (black and minority ethnic) actors are being cast in more roles than ever. Still lots to be done and there is a lot more to talk about than the gaffe currently dominating coverage of one of the most important cultural events in the film world.

Watch my interview on Sky News:

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PLMR’s crisis communications experience is second to none, and includes pre-emptive and reactive work across traditional and social media channels. We work with a range of organisations to offer critical communication support when they are faced with difficult and challenging scenarios.