When Bad Things Happen to Good Brands

March 1, 2017

The Oscars’ La La Land/Moonlight gaffe is currently one of the hottest topics in the public relations and media worlds – it’s made the front page of the New York Daily News and New York Post, and media outlets from TMZ to The Hollywood Reporter have been covering the incident in great detail.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the renowned accounting firm that for 83 years has managed voting for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was responsible for the evening’s historic mix-up, now has a major crisis and brand and reputation management issue on their hands. The situation has only been worsened by the fact that their brand is built on a reputation of accuracy and integrity – both of which were compromised during this situation.

In our experience managing communications crises for a variety of clients, there are clear steps companies must take to come out on other side of a crisis like this one.


Step One: Immediately take responsibility for the error.

PwC’s response to the crisis was swift – the most critical factor in handling crisis situations. They immediately released a statement taking full responsibility for the error and assuring the public that the Academy, presenters and host were not at fault for the mistake. This not only helped cap the bleeding, so to speak, but also served to preserve the reputation of the Academy and its brand – and ultimately PwC’s relationship with them, which the firm is clearly very invested in maintaining.

Step Two: Distance the brand from the mistake.

PwC’s well-crafted statement after the gaffe allocates the blame to one accountant, Brian Cullinan, and calls him out for not following the firm’s established protocols – illustrating that they hold their employees and their work to a certain standard. This deliberate wording serves to separate the larger brand of the firm from the error. In subsequent interviews with the media, PwC representatives have called the mistake a result of “human error,” reinforcing that this mistake was made by one individual and affirming that PwC’s reputation for accuracy has not been compromised as a whole.

PwC has also prevented the accountant responsible for the error from speaking publicly. This allows them to not only control the message, but reiterates that the accountant himself does not speak for or represent the brand.

Step Three: Keep on keeping on.

One of the key steps to repairing a brand’s reputation is to draw from the depth of that reputation and affirm it through the next steps they take as a company. After the company has taken responsibility and worked to smooth over brand issues, the next step is to get back to business. A quick glance at PwC’s Twitter page shows that they have jumped right back into the issues they are generally concerned with – financial services, banking, capital markets and investments. By shifting back to their “regularly scheduled programming,” PwC is also hoping to lay low and shift the negative media attention off of their brand.

PwC has a long-standing reputation as one of the Big Four accounting firms. They will not let one mistake, as big as it may be, define their entire legacy. By following the above steps, the firm will likely continue to maintain its reputation for accuracy and integrity long after #EnvelopeGate has passed.


PwC Statement

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