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Oscars #envelopgate: What brands can learn from the crisis?



When you’ve got just one job to do – handing over the right envelope – messing it up can have pretty serious consequences. Especially when you’re paid as much as PwC are.

Even though the Oscars isn’t PwC’s most lucrative client, the fact that the company has looked after the votes for the Academy Awards for 83 years does plenty to appeal to new business prospects and candidates.

So what happens when it all goes wrong? Just look at the hashtags #envelopegate and #Oscarfail for the public backlash. That doesn’t even take into account what their current and future clients must think.

Were PwC too confident? Had they become complacent? In a recent interview about the Oscars they said: “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.”

But in this case they didn’t do the good job that they’d promised. And this helps to highlight why crisis planning matters. Mistakes happen all the time. Sometimes they’re only small. But sometimes you might find yourself in an #envelopegate situation.

PwC did all the right things – they were quick to accept responsibility for the mistake, launched an immediate investigation. This was a good move. But it will take much more and indeed much longer to repair the reputation.

Now the Oscars relationship is under review and the two partners responsible have been told they will never work at the ceremony again.

For a company that is hired based on trust and accuracy, it will be interesting to see how this impacts existing and future business. They need to work hard to rebuild that trust.

If you’re faced with a crisis, the best thing you can do is turn to a trusted expert (like us!) to help. However, here are a few tips in the meantime…

Make sure your day-to-day PR activity is up to scratch

By drip-feeding a series of positive stories, you can make little deposits in the bank of trust so that when the bill comes in you have enough in the bank to cover the demand.

Plan for every eventuality

Plan for anything and everything, no matter how impossible or unlikely you think it is.

Run a crisis drill if you need to. Warren Beatty admitted he knew something was amiss – should he have raised the flag? Should the PwC team have got on stage quicker – they must have known who the winner was and could have possibly intercepted before the La La Land cast was on stage. If Brian Cullinan hadn’t been tweeting a picture of Emma Stone would he have realised that he still had the right envelope in his hand?

Get to grips with the details

Ask difficult questions and behave like a journalist. It’s likely that someone within the organisation knows or suspects more than they’re letting on. A journalist will find this out so make sure you do first.

Develop a consistent narrative and messaging

This is definitely where the specialists come in. Get in touch with our team to find out how we can help plan for every eventuality!


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