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BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt MARCH 2 • 2017
Oscars mistake puts
PwC's reputation in jeopardy
For 82 years, accounting
and consulting firm
PwC has enjoyed a
reputational boon from
handling the balloting
process at the Academy
Now its hard-won image as a de-
pendable partner is under threat.
The company has apologised for a
colossal mistake at the 89th Acad-
emy Awards on Sunday night when
actors Faye Dunaway and Warren
Beatty wrongly announced the top
Oscar went to "La La Land," instead
The presenters, it turned out, had
been given the wrong envelope by
tabulators PwC, in this case the one
awarding Emma Stone for best actress
for her role in "La La Land."
The representatives from PwC,
formerly known as Pricewaterhouse-
Coopers, eventually corrected the
mistake on air but it's not clear yet how
the wrong envelope ended up in the
hands of the "Bonnie and Clyde" stars.
Whatever the reason, it's been a cue
for endless jokes and hilarity around
For London-headquartered PwC,
it's anything but funny.
According to Nigel Currie, an in-
dependent London-based branding
specialist with decades' worth of in-
dustry experience, this mistake is "as
bad a mess-up as you could imagine."
"They had a pretty simple job to
do and messed it up spectacularly,"
he said. "They will be in deep crisis
talks on how to deal with it."
Brands go to extraordinary lengths
to protect their image and reputation
and to be seen as good corporate citi-
zens. History is littered by examples
when a hard-won reputation nose-
dives---from sporting legends Ti-
ger Woods and Lance Armstrong to
business giants like BP following the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster
and Volkswagen after its emissions
Crisis managers say PwC has no
other option than to front-up im-
mediately and explain exactly what
happened to contain the damage to
its reputation and brand and plot a
way forward where there's no repeat.
"There will certainly have to be ac-
counting for this error," said Jeremy
Robinson-Leon, principal and chief
operating officer at New York-based
public relations firm Group Gordon.
"The onus will be on PwC, assum-
ing they stay as partners, to institute
controls to ensure this doesn't happen
PwC, which originated in London
over a century ago, was quick to apol-
ogize to the movies involved, Beatty,
Dunaway and viewers, but has yet to
fully explain what happened.
"The presenters had mistakenly
been given the wrong category en-
velope and, when discovered, was
immediately corrected," it said in a
"We are currently investigating how
this could have happened, and deeply
regret that this occurred."
In fact, it took over two minutes
on air, during which time the "La La
Land" team gave three acceptance
speeches, before PwC corrected the
mistake on stage.
PwC's representatives were Brian
Cullinan, a partner at the firm---and,
according to his bio on the company's
website, a Matt Damon lookalike---and
Martha Ruiz, the second woman to
serve as a PwC Oscars tabulator.
Cullinan is the lead partner for the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences, including the annual bal-
loting for the Oscars ceremony. He
has been part of the balloting team
Ruiz, a 19-year veteran at PwC who
specialises in providing tax compli-
ance and advisory services to enter-
tainment clients in southern Cali-
fornia, joined Cullinan as the Oscars
balloting co-leader in 2015.
In a promotional video on the com-
pany's website ahead of Sunday's
show, Cullinan said he and Ruiz are
the only two who knew who the win-
ners were on the night of the awards.
"There are 24 categories. We have
the winners in sealed envelopes that
we hold and maintain throughout the
evening and hand those to the pre-
senters before they walk out on stage,"
According to Mike Davies, PwC's
director of global communications,
both Cullinan and Ruiz would have
had a briefcase on either side of the
auditorium to hand out the envelope
for the category to be announced. Each
briefcase would have had one envelope
of each category winner.
In his remarks before the show,
Cullinan had said PwC's relationship
with the Academy Awards is testament
to the firm's reputation in the mar-
ket for being "a firm of integrity, of
accuracy and confidentiality and all
of those things that are really key to
the role we have with the Academy in
counting these ballots."
"But I think it's really symbolic of
how we're thought of beyond this role
and how our clients think of us and
I think it's something we take very
seriously and take a lot of pride in."
Robinson-Leon said it was impor-
tant to remember that counting ballots
is not PwC's core business but that it
will have to be serious about dealing
with the aftermath of Sunday's em-
barrassment and media fallout.
"This can happen once and there
will be relative forgiveness but it can't
happen twice," said Group Gordon's
"If they were to do this again, that
could have an impact on the brand.
If this is an isolated incident, the
long-term impact on the brand will
Fred Berger, producer of
"La La Land," foreground
centre, gives his
acceptance speech as
Brian Cullinan, holding
red envelope, and Martha
L Ruiz, in red dress, and a
stage manager discuss
the best picture
among the cast at the
Oscars on Sunday,
February 26, 2017, at the
Dolby Theatre in Los
The actual winner of best
picture went to
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