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The Oscars – When a Good-Looking Tuxedo Isn’t Enough to Save Your Reputation

[By Nora Jacobs, Hennes Communications]

Wow.  One minute, you’re a global company with a brand so esteemed it almost glows.  The next, you’re the centerpiece of a social-media pile-on, raked over the coals by wits and late-night TV wannabes.  All because a partner with 20 years of service takes his eye off the ball and fails to execute a straightforward procedure your company has been carrying out almost flawlessly for 83 years.

By the time this piece publishes, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ role at this year’s Oscar ceremony will no doubt have become just an amusing memory in most minds – except perhaps inside the company, where a good amount of soul-searching, damage-control and procedural reforms are hopefully taking place.

Following the cardinal rule of good crisis management, the company moved pretty swiftly to issue an apology for the mix-up after it occurred – no doubt a significant feat given that the mistake didn’t happen until nearly midnight EST on Sunday.  By Monday, the company had posted the apology to its Twitter account, where scores of commenters took the firm to task. To its credit, that Twitter feed can still be accessed, warts and all – something that not all companies have the fortitude to do when they become the victims of a Tweetstorm. Otherwise, PwC wisely chose not to engage in the online assault that followed, no doubt realizing that on the scale of culpability, this event, while highly embarrassing, fell far short of activities that get executives indicted.

That said, while the media’s attention has moved on, there should be effort underway within the firm to reassure employees that they still work for an organization worthy of their pride and reassure clients that this mistake was an aberration.  With either group, it wouldn’t hurt to recognize that the company’s reputation took a serious hit, that the saga will live on indefinitely thanks to Google search and that PwC’s failure to deliver on its brand promise was potentially witnessed by nearly 33 million viewers around the world.

For two more takes on Sunday’s Oscar finale fiasco, read this piece from the Globe and Mail, which contacted my colleague Howard Fencl for his thoughts.  Colleague Thom Fladung weighs in here in a story posted by Ad Age.

UPDATED INFORMATION:  Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced on Wednesday that Cullinan and Ruiz, the two PwC employees responsible for handing the correct envelopes to the presenters, would not be returning for next year’s Oscars.  You can read a detailed, moment-by-moment accounting of the fiasco here.

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