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Oscar flub: An embarrassment for accounting … or something worse?

Plenty of jokes have been flying around in the aftermath of the Great Oscar Screw-Up of 2017, but for the poor folks at PricewaterhouseCoopers, it’s no laughing matter.

For those who have been living under a rock, let’s recap:

  1. Presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced late on Feb. 26 that “La La Land” had won the Oscar for Best Picture.
  2. For 2 minutes and 29 seconds, everyone believed it. Trophies were handed out. Acceptance speeches were given.
  3. Then, everyone realized a mistake had been made. “Moonlight” had won Best Picture, not “La La Land.” One cast left the stage, dumbfounded, while another took the stage in astonished joy.
  4. Everyone was left wondering, “How could this have happened?”

Here’s how, via a typically thorough explanation from Forbes “TaxGirl” Kelly Phillips Erb:

“There are two sets of winning envelopes at the Oscar show by design,” Erb writes. “PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm responsible for counting the ballots and verifying the results, stuffs two sets of winner envelopes and puts them in two separate briefcases — just in case.”

Instead of being given the card announcing the “Best Picture” winner, though, Dunaway and Beatty were given a duplicate of the “Best Actress” card, which listed Emma Stone of “La La Land” as the winner. The confused presenters announced “La La Land” as Best Picture by mistake.

Here’s a blow-by-blow account of how the mistake took place in front of a worldwide audience, via the folks at Slate.

For their part, the folks at PwC immediately recognized the error and tried to set things right.

"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," a PwC statement read. "... We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred."

That might not be enough to help the firm save face, however. London-based branding expert Nigel Currie told the Associated Press that the situation is "as bad a mess-up as you could imagine."

"They had a pretty simple job to do and messed it up spectacularly," Currie said. "They will be in deep crisis talks on how to deal with it.”

”There will certainly have to be accounting for this error," added Jeremy Robinson-Leon, principal and COO with New York PR firm Group Gordon. "The onus will be on PwC, assuming they stay as partners, to institute controls to ensure this doesn't happen again."

For a mistake made during a dog-and-pony show like the Oscars, that seems pretty harsh.

Still, PwC’s reputation — in fact, the reputation of any accounting firm — is made on accuracy. Things don’t get more inaccurate than what we saw at the Oscars.

It’s not exactly Enron or WorldCom, but it is an embarrassing blow to the PwC and CPA brands. The good news is, it won’t take a slew of new regulations to fix it. A little time and lack of short-term memory ought to do the trick.

Then again, the folks at Fast Company have proposed a design fix that would have prevented this entire SNAFU in the first place.

On the cards that announce the award, “just make ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Moonlight’ in huge text. That's it," writes Fast Company’s Mark Wilson. “It’s really that simple.”



Bill Sheridan