Did PwC calculate a PR opportunity when it handed out the wrong Oscars envelope?  

As I type this blog, thousands of people are probably Googling PwC, but not for accountancy advice. The professional services giant is more likely to be researched for the award-winning role it played in the Oscars 2017 ‘Best Picture’ blunder.

Genuine mistake or risky PR stunt? 

Either way, it took the 88th Academy Awards ceremony from hero to zero when presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway named La La Land as ‘Best Picture’ instead of Moonlight, which was resolved when film producer Jordan Horowitz humbly handed the statue across. [Click the link to watch *that* moment via the BBC News website.]

Opening up the Evening Standard tonight, the awards ceremony not only dominates the front page, but continues inside with a colourful double-page spread with four mentions of PwC before page 4 – including an image of Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz who are the only officials who knew the identity of the winners before the announcements are made and carry back-up envelopes in a briefcase.

Are PwC's officials to blame for the Oscars 2017 blunder?
So, with two opportunities to get it right, why did it all go wrong? 

Coincidentally, the last time PwC made headlines in the Evening Standard was when over 150,000 people signed a petition demanding a change in the law, after one of their female receptionists was sent home for refusing to wear heels to work.

Just days after Cullinan boasted to the media that PwC’s contract with the Oscars never comes up to tender due to the quality of its work, which is based on trust and accuracy, the company has been forced to grovel (while making headlines across the globe).

Golin‘s Michaela Gray makes an interesting point on PR Week that the incident is unlikely to shake the organisation’s reputation among its predominantly business audience. So, no damage done. But, the cynical media consultant in me thinks PwC had everything to gain, considering this is the first time I’ve taken any notice of their involvement in the film competition.

Looking at its website, it’s gone above and beyond to squeeze dynamic content out of its partnership. From social media posts and official biographies to behind-the-scenes videos and interactive ballot maps, Cullinan and Ruiz are even held up as celebrities in their own right for having the inside track.

La La Land hands over the Oscar to Moonlight
But, this content didn’t translate into high engagement on social media until it issued an apologetic statement, which generated an almost 10,000% uplift in shares compared to its other backstage Oscar posts on Twitter and an average rise of 25,000% compared to its general corporate communications.

Hmmm, maybe they’re professional after all? 

The mistake gave the show a thrilling narrative – suspense, shock, sadness and sharing – which the audience embraced (Twitter memes are the greatest form of flattery, right?) And, whether PwC continues to be associated with the event going forward, it’s guaranteed international PR, marketing and digital coverage in 2018 when Oscars season hits the headlines again to remind people of who the new cohort of nominees have to live up to.

PwC's Oscars 2017 Twitter apology
What do you think? Will PwC be ‘moonlighting’ in other ways – away from the Oscars – next year?

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