And the Winners Are … Honesty and Transparency after an Infamous Awards Show Mix-up

Mistakes happen.

And, Hollywood’s on-stage mistake naming “La La Land” the Best Picture of the Year at the 89th Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 26, arguably was the most-watched mistake of the 21st century.

Hollywood veterans Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the film they thought had won on live TV before some 32.9 million viewers.  But they were given the wrong envelope.

Rhudy & Co. presented our own "Oscars" to our team at our holiday party in January.

Rhudy & Co. presented our own "Oscars" to our team at our holiday party in January.

The mistake wasn’t recognized until the middle of “La La Land” acceptance speeches. Just like the producer, directors and actors of “Moonlight,” everyone appeared truly stunned. We all wondered, “Did that just happen?”

Clearly, Beatty and Dunaway weren’t to blame for the monumental mix up, despite funnyman Jimmy Kimmel asking, “Warren, what did you do?” Poor Steve Harvey got mentioned by name (in reference to his Miss Universe mix-up). Of course, Kimmel was joking as comedians do, even in awkward moments.

How people respond to those once-in-a-lifetime moments with clear and compelling communications makes a difference.

In the midst of chaos
“La La Land” producers Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt shared acceptance speeches for an award they didn’t win, but it was Horowitz who immediately responded with candor, honesty and humility once he knew the true winner of Best Picture. Horowitz dramatically returned to the center stage to declare, “‘Moonlight’ won. Guys, guys, I’m sorry. No. There’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.”

In that split-second decision, Horowitz showed his integrity and character, and the world noticed. The next day, The Washington Post detailed the Oscar glitch in an article with a headline reading: “‘La La Land’ producer Jordan Horowitz is the truth-teller we need right now.”

So true.

Horowitz was emphatic, understanding and decisive in the midst of chaos.

These are qualities of great leaders. In fact, the 36-year-old couldn’t have been more gracious and sincere. He was the real star on Sunday.

Emma Stone, the leading lady in the six-time Oscar-winning musical, showed grace and humility in her remarks back stage, along with others involved in the movie.

PwC rises
From a communications standpoint, the employees of PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers), the accounting firm, also demonstrated star qualities. The firm that has been leading the Oscars’ balloting process on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for 83 years took full responsibility for the envelope glitch.

PwC provides accounting, tax advisory and consulting services to some of the world’s largest companies and appears to have handled the unfortunate event as well as could be expected. One of the PwC partners allegedly posting a backstage photo to Twitter before the mix-up and then deleting the image likely didn’t help.

Here are four takeaways for communicators about what PwC got right and how they could’ve improved their response.

  1. PwC owned the mistake, didn’t cast blame and quickly apologized.
    PwC quickly determined and shared the cause of the chaotic moment. Perhaps the PwC apology should have been the night of the event, but clearly the firm needed to get the facts straight rather than rush a statement, which posted to the Oscar website in the middle of the night. 
  2. PwC communicated clearly, but it could have been quicker.
    Some critics said the two PwC partners knew immediately about the blunder, and didn’t react fast enough.

    PwC opted to use Twitter for the apology. However, their YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ pages show no other updates. It doesn’t appear PwC issued a formal news release.
  3. PwC communicated with its employees.
    According to the New York Times, PwC’s U.S. chairman, who was in the live audience, immediately got involved. On Monday, he reportedly emailed employees an update. Keeping employees informed during a crisis is critical. They’re your frontline ambassadors.
  4. PwC is being proactive.
    The company’s snafu is still in the news three days later. They’ve given media interviews to share their side of the story. A video message from the chairman, a senior leader or the employees would convey transparency and solidify the firm’s messages. According to news reports, the firm’s top leader is “working with the Academy to repair the relationship."

Reportedly, the two PwC partners involved will not be back next year, but let’s hope Hollywood gives PwC another chance to shine and regain its trust.

After all, Hollywood loves a good come-back story.

Jonathan Rhudy and his wife and business partner Michele presented 17 Oscars of their own at the recent Rhudy & Co. holiday party.

Each co-worker received a unique, Oscar-inspired accolade for their unique contributions – from “most willing to bring order to chaos” to “most likely to dazzle (and hug) a client.”

Each co-worker received a unique, Oscar-inspired accolade for their unique contributions – from “most willing to bring order to chaos” to “most likely to dazzle (and hug) a client.”