What Does the Oscars Blunder Mean for PwC?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past month, you’ll know that the 89th Academy Awards took place in LA in February. You’ll also know that the celebrations for Best Picture were marred by the wrong winner being announced. Instead of Moonlight being given the Best Picture Oscar, La La Land was announced as the winner instead.

Amid confused scenes on stage, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz snatched the card from the fingers of a befuddled Warren Beatty to announce that the Moonlight crew were the real winners.

You can relive the whole cringeworthy moment here.

How the hell did that happen?

It transpired that Beatty had been given the wrong envelope by tabulators PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers. Instead of the envelope containing the winner for best picture, PwC representative Brian Cullinan accidentally handed over a duplicate of the envelope for best actress; an award Emma Stone had accepted for her role in La La Land just moments before.

The mistake triggered an off-stage scramble that spilled on to the stage and led to an embarrassing reversal in which Moonlight was correctly crowned the Oscar winner.

Social media meltdown

The day after the awards, the hashtags #envelopegate and #Oscarfail were trending on Twitter, and PwC, a business that prides itself on its integrity and trustworthiness, was on the tip of many consumers’ tongues in an unforgiving fashion. ‘You had one job!’ people remarked, tagging the company’s username and the two partners who oversaw the ballots. Some criticised PwC on an unofficial Facebook page for the business, with one person remarking its acronym could stand for ‘probably wrong card.’

So what next for PwC?

The accountancy firm has enjoyed a reputational boon from its handling of the balloting process at the Academy Awards for the last 82 years. There are currently a lot red-faced PwC executives and Brian Cullinan has been told he’ll ‘never work in this town again.’

PwC has already taken the first steps by taking responsibility for the mistake and issuing a public apology. While this won’t stop the public ridicule, it was a necessary step in the right direction.

As far as what PwC’s next steps will be, there are two possible outcomes. They may attempt to brand themselves counter to the measure of the mistake. In other words, they might choose to spend a ton of money on branding themselves as trustworthy, reliable, and mistake-free.

Or they may take an honest approach and admit that mistakes happen. From a PR point of view, this is the best way to handle the situation, even of this magnitude.

Mistakes happen

As a brand, you’re going to make mistakes. Hopefully, not on the same scale as PwC. But mistakes are a part of business. When issues happen at your company, take them as opportunities to humanise your brand. Own up to the error and don’t try to point fingers at anyone other than yourself. Customers appreciate honesty and transparency.

Issuing a sincere explanation that recognises the error and the steps you’re taking to stop it from happening again, is the response people want to see. Customers are tired of companies hiding their mistakes or covering up issues. Don’t try to ignore problems or overcompensate. Use real emotions during these times to create common ground with your customers.

In order to manage customer expectations and retention, it’s important you recognise mistakes as they occur. Your brand may take a hit, but taking an honest approach to your PR and marketing communications will mitigate any long-term backlash.

So, PwC, the stage is all yours.

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