Oscar’s envelope blunder: PRs – keep on your toes, it’s vital

Written by Olivia Williams

At Sunday’s Oscars, La La Land was mistakenly called out for best picture, when the real winner was Moonlight. Awkward chaos ensued.  All live for us to watch, tweet, share and have a laugh at. The Oscars blunder was not meant to happen, and as one La La Land Producer declared mid speech, “it was not a joke”.

PwC has been counting votes and providing the envelopes for the Academy for the last 83 years. In the lead up to the Oscars one of the two counters, Martha Ruiz, gave an interview with the BBC, explaining the complex counting and envelope system. Apparently there are two sets of envelopes, so each counter has a set at each wing to personally hand out the correct envelope, all whilst being watched by the LAPD.  Clearly even LAPD can’t ensure this system is fool proof.  The mistake could have been human error, a stage management mishap, or a combination of both.  Ironically, it was the two sets of envelopes that caused the confusion.  But what’s clear is it could have been prevented if another check happened before the envelope was handed to Warren Beatty, or if Warren had trusted his suspicions.

So here’s where the lesson lies for PRs: no matter how long you have been doing something, or how long you have been working with a client, treating it like the first time is vitally important. It prevents something seemingly simple and repetitive going wrong, and ensures that if it does go wrong, you’re ready.  Having a plan B doesn’t demonstrate a lack of faith in yourself to your client, but gives you more control if something unplanned were to happen.

Although the actors and actresses all somewhat gracefully accepted the mistake, it could have been over sooner if there had been a plan for this situation. It took almost ten minutes to manage the blunder and, half an acceptance speech later, both the stars and crew could not contain their on-stage (and very public) humiliation.

The statement given by PwC was honest and shows their remorse, but now they’re in crisis meetings with the Academy. They are taking action by way of investigation, ultimately accepting fault for the time being until anything comes to light.

We’ve all had our Oscar moments (the mishap not the Award), but when we do, acting fast is what PRs need to do for the show to go on.

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