Feb 28, 2017

in News

The award for Crisis Management goes to...

We caught up with Precision’s Director of Communications Caitlin Legacki to discuss how PricewaterhouseCoopers can change the narrative around their involvement in the incorrect Best Picture Academy Award announcement this past weekend.

Q: What’s your view on the situation that happened last night at the Academy Awards with PricewaterhouseCoopers and the confusion around the announcement of the Best Picture winner between the films Moonlight and La La Land?

CL: It’s obviously a very high profile situation, given that Oscars night is one of the biggest live TV events of the year outside of the Super Bowl. And so the challenge that this presents for PwC is that for the most part, this is the only thing that Americans are going to hear about them throughout the entire year. Their business is not consumer-focused, for the most part, it’s often B2B, but this event is a huge moment for them because of the number of eyeballs on it.

So it’s a tricky situation for them because they’re now being consumed by this media story about, “How did the envelope get out on stage,” “How did the right versus wrong envelope get delivered,” and the the issue of how does this affect the integrity of the Oscars voting going forward and retroactively.

This isn’t central to PwC’S business. But, when you have a high profile event like this, you have to be prepared for all of the worst cases — all of the contingencies — so that if something does go wrong, you’re able to quickly respond, set the record straight, and move on.

And just getting that out there “how” this happened will help stop the hemorrhaging. Because typically when you remove the mystery, it becomes a lot less interesting.

Q: In a crisis situation like last night, what should have been step one for PwC?

CL: Step one should have been just to figure out what happened and if it was human error — which it sounds like it was — they should just say that immediately. The Wall Street Journal just reported that one of the two partners in charge of distributing envelopes was tweeting photos during the ceremony. He gave the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty. Surely, this is deeply embarrassing, but it’s a really simple cause with a really simple solution. PwC has to take ownership of how exactly it happened, and be clear about the steps it will take to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

If the stories about an executive tweeting during the ceremony are accurate in pinpointing the cause of this issue, that may raise other questions about how seriously he was taking his job. Being onstage last night would make anyone starstruck, which is somewhat understandable, but they need to be prepared to answer those questions because that may wind up being the bigger issue in their relationship with the Academy.

Q: In the coming days, as you said they’re still trying to figure out what happened, what should they be looking to do?

CL: They need to move on from this as quickly as possible. So as they’re talking about maybe an investigation into what happened — the longer they drag this out, the worse this is for them. If the WSJ story is true, someone has to fall on their sword, and that’s going to be painful, but there’s no reason to drag this out.

Q: How do you think PwC can rebuild trust ahead of next year’s Academy Awards?

CL: They need to do a couple of things.  First, PwC needs to be clear on where the breakdown occurred, and quickly take steps to prevent it from happening again. The longer they let the “investigating what happened” hang out there, the more they prolong the life of the story.

If this is truly human error with a partner being distracted by tweeting photos of celebrities, they could ban cell phones for PwC staff during the ceremony. PwC could also double up the teams, so that one team member is solely focused on taking envelopes for awards that have already been announced are taken out of circulation.

Second, they need to begin to change the conversation. PwC’s role in the Academy Awards is a very technical one. They don’t just hand out envelopes. By detailing that role and the protocols in place to ensure integrity in the voting process and reporting the results, PwC can start to shift the conversation away from the envelopes and restore trust in the overall process.

Finally, it’s important to understand that they have multiple audiences – from the media to TV audience, business clients and ultimately, the Academy.  By the time this blog posts, given today’s short attention spans, TV audiences will have moved on and an explanation of what happened will probably never fully reach them. Simply posting the results of their “investigation” on their website and social media platforms will reach the media, which will then filter to whatever percentage of the TV audience is still paying attention. But, business clients and the Academy need more targeted strategies. This was a huge embarrassment for the Academy – arguably the biggest moment in oscar history. If the relationship is salvageable, PwC needs to be transparent and move quickly to provide an explanation. They also need to reach out to their biggest clients to communicate while this was a big mistake, it doesn’t speak to the way they counted the vote or how we conduct our business every other day of the year.

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