A phrase first uttered in jest by one of my favorite local writers, Jonelle Moore, but now commonplace around the Estipona Group, is “Do we have time to think this through?” While we’re going fast most of the time, the answer to that question should always be “yes” — especially because not thinking things through tends to create huge problems.
Which brings us to the 2017 Academy Awards.
When Warren Beatty opened that envelope, he knew something was wrong. If he had held up his hand and called for a time-out, it would have been awkward for sure. But it would not have been nearly as awkward as calling up the cast and crew from La La Land and putting them in the awful position of stealing Moonlight’s thunder. Yes, they handled it gracefully, as did the crew from Moonlight, but think how much more magical Barry Jenkins’ and his team’s win would have been if they had been able to stand on that stage by themselves. And this was a historic win – a movie about a gay black man coming of age in an incredibly demanding environment, winning Best Picture.
Yes, it’s much easier for me to armchair quarterback from the comfort of my quiet office than it was for Beatty to make the call on a huge stage being watched by millions of people around the world. But this wasn’t his first rodeo. If anyone had the experience and balls to call a time-out, it should have been the man who has been an integral part of Hollywood for more than 60 years. And you know this blunder is now going to show up in his obituary, which quite honestly, sucks.
But ultimately, the blame falls on PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which HAD ONE JOB. Perhaps if Brian Cullinan, the official carrier of the envelope, had been focused on that one job, rather than tweeting a photo, Beatty and Faye Dunaway would not have been put in the position they were. PwC fell on the sword for the mistake, which is only right, but now that one screw-up is going to be the subject of memes for who knows how long. And I can’t even imagine how much time and money they’re going to have to put toward salvaging their reputation.
There’s a common cliché that warns, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Let’s take this one step further: If you fail to plan to fail, you will most likely fail. Though most of us don’t think we’re ever going to have to deal with a crisis, it’s always better to be prepared for one. I’m going to guess presenters were not told what to do when confused about the language on a card. It’s a good bet PwC never trained its team about what happens when the duplicate cards are mixed up (and clearly didn’t proactively tell its employees not to tweet pictures of movie stars on company time). And I’ll bet (based on the obvious chaos on stage) that the emcee and stage crew were never trained about contingencies.
The key takeaways from the Academy Awards’ most historic flub? Plan for all possible contingencies, prepare for mix-ups and screw-ups, focus on what you’re doing, be willing to call a time-out and take the blame when it’s your fault.
When it comes to crisis planning, take the time to think things through. It can mean the difference between a forgettable awkward moment — and a characterization that will be a highlight in your obituary.
Jackie Shelton is VP of Public Relations for the Estipona Group. For more mind-blowing communication stuff and whatnot, subscribe to Estipona Group’s e-newsletter, which comes out just often enough (but not so often to be annoying).