Only 32 million people were watching…

Mar 3, 2017

This week Charlie discusses the mix-up at the Oscars and whether the incident will impact the organisations involved.

There can only be one topic for the bulletin this week, and that has to be the mix-up at the Oscars. Imagine achieving a lifetime’s ambition of winning Best Picture and giving a gushing speech, only minutes later to be told on live TV that you haven’t actually won the award and the embarrassment of having to return to your seat to watch the real winners take the Oscar.

So, what can we learn from this event? Although I haven’t seen a report on why it happened, it seems to follow the well-worn path to disasters. As Sky News reported, it was not one event, but a “series of mistakes” and a failure to follow backstage protocols. I am sure that there were well-established protocols to ensure everything went smoothly, including two people giving out the envelopes, but within most systems we rely on humans. If these humans get distracted by tweeting about Sharon Stone, then they don’t follow procedures and mistakes happen. Perhaps if our procedures are too well-established, people become complacent and rely on them too much. As a result, they don’t think about what they are doing, and by not concentrating, they move outside the procedures and cause an incident.

As with all incidents, there is always a tale which goes on for months and years, reminding people of the incident and impacting those involved long after the mainstream media circus has forgotten about the event. It has been reported in the media that the two accountants from PwC, Mr Cullinan and Ms Ruiz, who were involved in the mix-up, have had to hire bodyguards due to receiving death threats. They will both find it will take a very long time (if not a lifetime) to distance themselves from this event. Although the incident will not impact PwC too badly, its reputation for competence will be dented. They are likely to lose the contract for the Oscars, with their rivals and customers remembering the event for a long time.

I have written in previous bulletins about how to draw a line under an incident and move on. The Oscars clip will be on YouTube forever, and I suspect it will be one of the most watched videos ever. One version of the clip has already had 1.1 million views.

The real test of an incident is whether it undermines the credibility of the organisation involved, and if their customers will leave, forcing the organisation’s collapse. For both PwC and the Academy Awards, this is not true. The incident will always be a footnote in the history of the Academy Awards, but it doesn’t undermine its basic premise of being an organisation whose members judge a series of films and give out awards based on their views. Being associated with glamour, the film world and Hollywood, it keeps its allure. If the incident was vote rigging, influence or corruption, it would be a very different story and the event would have longer lasting consequences.

Although I am sure that this was a showcase job for PwC, it is a huge organisation, with a deep entwined relationship with most of its customers. It will be difficult for their customers to change provider, and counting the votes for the Oscars is a far cry from PwC’s more mundane audit and accounting work purchased by their customers.

This incident will be an embarrassment for both organisations and will have a major impact on the two people involved, but in the long run it will become the stuff of pub quizzes and nothing more.

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