And the award goes to…?

One of the main roles of public relations is crisis management. This relates to how you as a business act and respond to a disruptive situation that can damage your reputation. Some key examples of times when crisis management was needed include disasters like the BP oil spill and the infamous Tesco horse meat scandal.

While these were massive environmental and health and safety disasters, a more minor call for crisis management came just a few days ago during the 2017 Oscars. So let’s talk about how they did.

What exactly happened:

So, during the 2017 Oscar ceremony “La La Land” was called to receive the award for Best Picture. The cast took to the stage during the usual applause and began the usual speeches thanking family and everyone involved in the movie. What was then unusual, was the interruption during which Jordan Horowitz, producer of the film, took over the microphone and announced that actually they hadn’t won and called Moonlight to the stage. Warren Beatty who made the false announcement, then explained that the card had read “Emma Stone-La La Land,” and that this had caused the mistake. The whole process was altogether awkward and confusing, made no better by Jimmy Kimmel’s following attempts to lighten the mood.

Who was at fault:

Many media outlets took to placing the blame solely with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway for reading the wrong film. However, later  focus shifted from the presenters to the people in charge of the envelopes containing the results. This responsibility fell to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who are in charge of calculating and distributing the results for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who run the awards ceremony.

It was then discovered that Brian Cullinan, chairman of the US board of PwC, was the one who gave Warren Beatty the wrong card, intended instead to announce Best Actress. As two members of PwC are the only ones to know the results during the ceremony, the blame could be placed entirely with them.

However, there is some speculation that the Academy attempted to alter the entrance of the presenters too close to the results, thereby affecting the flow of the whole process and confusing the PwC representatives.

This suggests that both parties were to blame.

So how did they do:

It took exactly two minutes and twenty five seconds for the mistake to be rectified from the time when the wrong announcement was made. This may not seem like a lot but if we instead say that two members of the cast had time to make heartfelt speeches before they were told something was wrong it comes across as a lot more significant.

Moreover, it then took three hours for PwC to release a statement of apology. While this also may not seem like a monumental amount of time, let’s remember that this event was broadcast live meaning that there was no gap between when the mistake was made and when it was discovered.

We sincerely apologize to “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.

We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.


This was also three hours of silence compared to the previously very active Twitter accounts of the two PwC representatives; activity that only further suggested that they were not paying attention and careless with their roles of handling the results. This three hours allowed media outlets to start placing blame on all parties including the innocent presenters.

Accountant Brian Cullinan's now deleted tweet which he posted just before the envelope mix up

Only after PwC made the statement accepting all accountability did the Academy issue their own apology to the presenters, cast and fans. This significant gap of three hours during which no comments were made by either PwC or the Academy allowed the media to speculate that neither party wanted to accept responsibility. This simply painted both parties in a negative light, furthering the damage done.

Moreover, the crisis was made worse by the fact that it overshadowed the opportunity for positivity on behalf of the Academy. After last year’s #OscarsSoWhite trend which called for more diversity in the awards, the victory of Moonlight would have been the perfect circumstance to highlight for some much needed positive publicity. The fact that this was overshadowed by the new trend #OscarFail made the crisis all the more damaging.

In conclusion, both parties attempted to manage the crisis separately in order to avoid shouldering the blame. It would have been better dealt with if PwC had accepted responsibility while the Academy brought the focus back to the success of the night. A united front accepting blame immediately but emphasising the positives might have limited even more confusion.

Chloe Peoples is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @ChloePeeps or on LinkedIn at

Public Relations: Top Success Stories

Hi everyone! My name’s Chloe and I am currently studying Communications, Advertising and Marketing with Ulster University. As you have probably already guessed from the title, this course involves some modules in Public Relations; which I’m sure a lot of you find boring but hopefully that’s where I come in!

PR is not only relevant for businesses, we as consumers are affected by it everyday. PR can change everything; from what we think of a company to what we think of the world around us. On the most basic level, public relations is about professionally communicating with the public. But today, when consumers have all the power and it’s so much easier to flit from one brand to another, it can be a vital way of differentiating yourself from competitors.

So here are, in my opinion, the top 3 PR stunts which were hugely successful in terms of longevity, societal impact and profit.

Tour de France 

Believe it or not the Tour de France started as a PR event run by a newspaper company in France. In 1903 Henri Desgrange, former champion cyclist, decided to increase the awareness of his newspaper “The Bicycle,” which later became “The Car,” by organising a bike race. This bike race ran over 1500 miles over rough terrain and encouraged consumer involvement and commitment. The cyclists rode through the night; the roads weren’t paved like they are now so the conditions were terrible and yet it was such a success that it doubled the newspaper’s circulation and even managed to put rival papers out of business. The fact that it’s been over 100 years and people still flock to this annual, now international event just goes to show how powerful PR can be when done right.

Lucky Strike’s “Torches of Freedom”

Known now as the first PR campaign to ever be put into action, “torches of freedom” changed the way 1920s society thought about women smoking. In the 1920s Edward Bernays, known as “the father of public relations,” was employed by the American Tobacco Company and tasked with increasing the number of people who smoked cigarettes. During this time women’s rights were still being fought for in the US and Edward Bernays decided to use this to his advantage. Bernays informed different newspapers and media outlets that during NY’s Easter Sunday Parade women would be lighting their “torches of freedom.” People flocked to the parade and found 10 women marching, while smoking their Lucky Strikes cigarettes. It was a form of rebellion against a society that perceived smoking as unladylike, masculine and in some cases, even criminal. While Bernays and the American Tobacco Company may have ignored health implications in favour of sales, it can’t be denied that this had a big hand in changing the perception of female smoking, proving that even the way a society thinks can be influenced by PR.

The Blair Witch Project

While this didn’t really change the whole of society or inspire a 100-year-old event, the success of the viral PR campaign run by the creators of “Blair Witch Project” was so colossal that it has to be mentioned. For those of you who may not know, the film centres on three filmmakers who go missing in the woods while searching for a legend known as the “blair witch.” Their film is later “discovered” and pieced together. Before the release of this film, in 1998, Haxan Films created a website (which still exists today) and released information about the film as though it were completely real. For six months, information was added to the website as though it were only being discovered. They released tapes of footage to college campuses as though it were real and even handed out missing person flyers with the faces of the filmmakers. Everything about this movie was presented as a documentary, which increased awareness and created a kind of frenzy amongst the public.

All in all, this film which was created with only $20,000-$25,000 reeled in $248million at the box office. No independent movie has ever even come close to matching this success. This just proves that even without Facebook or YouTube, viral PR can generate success if you get creative enough.

So there you have it. I hope this clarified what PR is and how it can be used. Regardless of budget, PR is successful when you get creative, know your consumer and are aware of the world around you.

Chloe Peoples is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @ChloePeeps