What #OscarsSoWrong teaches about crisis communication

Mar 09, 2017
What #OscarsSoWrong teaches about crisis communication

Bonnie & Clyde robbed the Oscars. Steve Harvey is vindicated. "La La Land" won the popular vote but "Moonlight" won the electoral college.

These are just a few of the witty remarks on social media when Faye Dunaway, standing with a befuddled Warren Beatty, announced incorrectly that La La Land won Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars.

It's not the worst thing that ever happened, but the producer, cast and crew of Moonlight were stunned instead of jubilant, the La La Land team was disappointed and viewers around the world cringed.

While the whole thing went very wrong, a few things went right, which are good lessons for how to respond in a crisis.

When something breaks, fix it

"La La Land" producer Jordan Horowitz interrupted the acceptance speeches to say "Moonlight" really won, and that he was happy to hand them the award. In an industry known for egos, it was a moment of memorable graciousness. He later said that while he was a little heartbroken, he got to thank his wife and son, so all was good.

Figure out what happened, and fast

When Beatty walked up to the microphone, my first thought was, "Don't make it worse!" But he explained that the card in the Best Picture envelope he received was actually for the Best Actress winner - "La La Land" star Emma Stone.

Later, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which tabulates the results and handles the cards, confirmed that a partner assigned to tabulate the votes gave Beatty the wrong envelope.

What's been written before will be written again

When people wonder what happened, journalists look at what's been said before.

An earlier post on the self-publishing platform Medium, which has since been removed, explained that two PwC partners - one on each side of the stage - have a complete set of envelopes with the winners' names inside. That explains why Dunaway and Beatty had an unopened envelope for an award that was already given.

It's more than what happened; it's what happens next

Everybody makes mistakes. Yep, everybody - even people at the top of their game.

The movie business is a business; how any business responds in a pinch says a lot about it.

PwC accepted responsibility and apologized. The partners -- criticized not just for giving out the wrong envelope, but also reacting too slowly after recognizing the error -- won't be on Oscar duty next year. Personally, I hope the real winners, who were tremendously gracious throughout the confusion, were able to shake off the shock and celebrate as they should have able to all along. 

If I were advising the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which presents the Oscars) I'd tell them to do something extraordinary for "Moonlight," sooner rather than later. A special honor at next year's ceremony would be nice, but I would love to hear that something more immediate is planned, too.

Editor's Note: This post, originally appeared on LinkedIn and has been republished with permission from the author. 

Terri Thornton is a founder of Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR, content creation, and social media firm. A long-time contributor to MediaShift.org, she is also a freelance editor for two prominent accounting publications: Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly, published by the Insitute of Management Accountants. She wrote a chapter on crisis communications in a “PR News” Guidebook and has contributed columns to a number of leading media outlets. 

Photo via Pixabay

About the author

Terri Thornton: tweets news, biz law, accounting, real estate, energy; blogs for @MediashiftOrg; does PR

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