PwC agency review has a huge & hilarious hiccup
Steve’s breakdown: Okay – we reported on the PriceWaterhouseCoppers agency review weeks ago. If you missed getting in, you might want to give it another go after the Oscar’s fiasco. Watch the featured video and tell me I’m wrong. Hilarious!!!
NEW YORK, NY: As the Oscar for best picture was being presented at the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday night, Tim Ryan, the United States chairman of PwC, was sitting in a plush seat in the Dolby Theater, watching with satisfaction.
PwC, an accounting firm based in London, has tabulated the votes for the Academy Awards for 83 years. And the Oscars, while not its most lucrative client, is perhaps its most important. The firm leans on its long history as Hollywood’s chief vote-counter to enhance its appeal in efforts like business development and recruiting.
So when “La La Land” was named the best-picture winner and the producers began delivering their acceptance speeches, it appeared Mr. Ryan’s work for the night was done.
Then chaos erupted on the stage. A PwC partner had handed Warren Beatty, a presenter of the award, the wrong envelope. Faye Dunaway, presenting the award with Mr. Beatty, erroneously announced that “La La Land” had won. Moments later, after the two PwC partners who oversee the voting came onstage, the “La La Land” producers announced that “Moonlight” was in fact the winner.
Mr. Ryan watched in horror as the bizarre scene played out before Hollywood’s biggest stars and tens of millions of people watching around the globe. In a dizzying turn of events, his firm, which normally occupies a back seat at the glamorous event, was suddenly at the center of one of the most sensational stories in Oscars history.
“I knew something was up,” he said in a telephone interview on Monday, zeroing in on the discordant moment when he noticed two of his employees interrupting the best picture acceptance speeches. “It’s not their job to come out on stage.”
As the magnitude of the gaffe set in, Mr. Ryan went into crisis-management mode.
“What was going though my head at the time was, ‘We have to get to the bottom of this, and if we made a mistake, we’ll own up to it,’” Mr. Ryan said. “My philosophy in life is, bad news doesn’t age well.”
Reaction to the mistake has been swift and harsh.
“The accountants have one job to do — that’s to give Warren Beatty the right envelope,” Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, said in a videotaped interview after the show, which was broadcast on ABC. “That’s what these people are paid a lot of money to do. If they were my accountant, I would fire them.”
On Monday, the hashtags #envelopegate and #Oscarfail were trending on Twitter, and PwC, a business that markets its services to other businesses, was newly on the tip of many consumers’ tongues in an unforgiving fashion.
“You had one job!” several people remarked, tagging the company’s username and the two partners who oversaw the ballots, who were the public faces of PwC’s efforts before and during the show. Some criticized PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, on an unofficial Facebook page for the business, with one person remarking its acronym could stand for “probably wrong card.”
Just as quickly as the fortunes of “La La Land” and “Moonlight” changed, PwC, one of the so-called Big Four accounting firms, had a major brand crisis on its hands.
“Not since Janet Jackson and her wardrobe malfunction on the Super Bowl have we seen something quite as glaring as this snafu,” said Andrew D. Gilman, the chief executive of the crisis communications firm CommCore Consulting Group, referring to the 2004 episode. Although most of PwC’s clients are aware that mistakes can happen, “the name of the firm has unfortunately been a little sullied,” he added.
PwC was quick to accept responsibility for the mistake.
According to Mr. Ryan and others briefed on the process, a PwC partner, Brian Cullinan, handed Mr. Beatty the wrong envelope.
Instead of the envelope containing the winner for best picture, Mr. Cullinan accidentally handed Mr. Beatty a duplicate of the envelope for best actress — an award Emma Stone had accepted for her role in “La La Land” just moments before.
For the Oscars, PwC uses two complete sets of the envelopes, with one placed on each side of the stage. Mr. Cullinan was handling one side, and the other partner overseeing the voting process, Martha L. Ruiz, was handling the other. It isn’t clear what led Mr. Cullinan to hand Mr. Beatty the wrong envelope.
Mr. Cullinan posted on Twitter a photograph of Ms. Stone backstage shortly after she won the award for best actress, and minutes before the mix-up, according to The Wall Street Journal. The post, which has been deleted, said “Best Actress Emma Stone backstage! #PWC.”
The design of the envelopes could have been a factor. The envelopes were redesigned this year to feature red paper with gold lettering that specified the award enclosed, rather than gold paper with dark lettering. That could have made the lettering harder to read. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, not PwC, is responsible for the design and procurement of the envelopes.
Whatever the reason, PwC was left searching for answers. As celebrities and guests hit the town for celebrations, Mr. Ryan spent the hours after the awards show speaking with Mr. Cullinan, Ms. Ruiz, members of the Academy and the show’s producers.
“I spent the bulk of the night with Brian trying to understand what happened,” Mr. Ryan said. “There wasn’t much in terms of parties last night.”
Mr. Ryan and others at PwC were scrambling to contain the damage all night. The firm released a statement early Monday apologizing and taking responsibility for the mistake. Later in the day, Mr. Ryan wrote an email to PwC employees.
It is too early to tell how the error will affect the PwC brand.
A privately held partnership, PwC provides accounting, tax advisory and consulting services to most of the world’s largest corporations. It reported sales of $36 billion during its last fiscal year, up 7 percent from the previous year. The entertainment and media sector accounted for just 4.2 percent of sales.
PwC would not comment on its financial arrangement with the Academy, and Mr. Ryan said that there had not been any discussions about whether its longstanding contract was in jeopardy.
PwC, which said earlier this month that it planned to hire an advertising agency to help promote some of its services, recently selected RG/A for those efforts. That marketing work will be separate from any ad campaign the company may plan in the wake of the Oscars mix-up.
The company promotes the firm’s longstanding relationship with the Academy Awards on its website.
One video posted there, introducing Mr. Cullinan and Ms. Ruiz, began with the line, “The reason we were even first asked to take on this role was because of the reputation PwC has in the marketplace for being a firm of integrity, of accuracy and confidentiality.” It went on to note that the relationship was “symbolic of how we’re thought of beyond this role and how our clients think of us.”
But how clients think of PwC may change.
Mr. Gilman, the crisis communications specialist, said he was curious to see if PwC kept the Oscars contract. “They have branded themselves around this event saying, ‘We’re trusted’ — that’s the implication. Now I think that will take a hit.”