Fixing the Oscars Crisis


The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced today (March 30) that it was renewing the contract of PricewaterhouseCoopers to continue to count the annual Oscars ballots. (Story here).

As an expert in crisis management, I was asked at the time to weigh in on the Oscars/PricewaterhouseCoopers debacle when it occurred. You know what I’m talking about: when presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and announced the wrong name for Best Picture. I declined then because I didn’t want to be viewed as “piling on.” But now that the Academy has decided to renew the PwC contract and allow the legendary firm to continue counting ballots, here are a few things that might help ensure that another mix-up does not occur.

The accountants are hired help. Don’t lose sight of that. I used to represent one of PwC’s major competitors and I cringed some years ago when I first saw the accountants – dressed in tuxes and gowns! – strut down the red carpet carrying briefcases filled with the balloting results. These people are not stars, they’re not celebrities. They’re worker-bees who got carried away with their own sense of self-importance. They were there to do a job, pure and simple. They had no business being on the red carpet in the first place. Their egos and proximity to real stars got in their way. Literally, they had stars in their eyes. So the first fix is: No more red carpet appearances for the accountants. They should find their place or places behind the scenes – early – and stay there. That’s what they’re getting paid for.

The mix-up occurred because there were two sets of envelopes. Why two? Because presenters sometimes appear from stage left OR stage right, some logistics expert decided a while ago to have an accountant stand stage left AND stage right, each with an identical set of envelopes. When Accountant A handed the envelope for, say, Best Actor, to a presenter, Accountant B was supposed to remove his unopened envelope for Best Actor and secure it somewhere safe. Second fix: Just use one set of envelopes. Either have all presenters enter from the same location spot, or have all presenters pass by the backstage location of the accountants to receive the magic envelope before their appearance on stage, regardless of stage left or right.

Third fix, strip the accountants of their cell phones and all other electronic devices. In a now famous photo, one of the accountants backstage snapped a photo of Emma Stone, who had just received an Oscar, and was in the process of texting it moments after he had handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Cell phones and the instantness of social media are a distraction. This was the first such mishap in 83 years. It would not have happened if cell phones had been banned.

Fourth, there are too many people backstage. Thin the herd.

Should PwC’s contract have been renewed? Leslie Moonves, chief honcho at CBS, called for PwC to be fired at the time. He was wrong. This appeared to have been the first blunder in eight decades, which is a pretty good track record. PwC certainly earned another chance. Plus, although it wasn’t planned, people were buzzing about the Oscars for weeks after the ceremony. You can’t buy that kind of free publicity. And I predict even more viewers will tune in next year to see if there’s another faux pas.

There’s only one thing that still puzzles me: If these are truly secret ballots, how did “someone” know that the wrong name had been announced?