In Crisis Management, Reputation

Some crises are meant to be embraced. What started out as an “oops” can actually turn into an opportunity. The screw-up at the Oscars is a great example and a good lesson in reputation recovery for other companies that mess up.

As a rule, any crisis that goes to the integrity of your product is the toughest to recover from. An accounting firm that demonstrates it can’t be counted on for accuracy should be an example of that. And rumors that Warren Beatty received the wrong envelope from a guy who was tweeting moments before didn’t help.

Let’s review: a company that built its reputation on being accurate messed up because one of the accountants (a partner no less) was distracted by 140 characters. For the last 83 years, that company (now called PwC) has tabulated the votes and monitored the awards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. And this year, one of their partners handed the wrong envelope for the Academy’s Best Picture to the presenters in front of 32.9 million TV viewers. What’s a number-cruncher to do? Apologize and embrace the mistake.

Apologize and Embrace the Mistake

Step #1 – Apologize. PwC was smart enough to take this step the day after the mess-up. They also made partners available to the media to discuss it. Kudos to them. PwC’s apology was self-effacing. It took ownership of the mistake and apologized for it. It also scores big with me because it acknowledged the human impact of its mistake. PwC apologized “to the entire cast and crew of ‘La La Land’ and ‘Moonlight’ whose experience was profoundly altered by [the] error.”

Now it’s time for Step #2 – Embrace it. Admit the unthinkable – that your folks are human. Then, have some fun with it. I came across this idea in a post by Jack and Suzy Welch, and I loved it. In their post they suggested that PwC use the goof to demonstrate its humanity. Even, their sense of humor! They suggested the firm do a riff on the great movie line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Picture a headline like this: “Love sometimes means having to say you’re sorry.” And body copy that says: “And to all the great artists, who make us laugh and cry with their movies we say congratulations. We love you, and this time, we do not have to say we’re sorry.” How about that PwC? An ad that admits you’re human. What a concept!

Understand What a Crisis Says About Your Brand

I’m not saying that making light of a crisis is always the right thing to do. The impact of many crises goes beyond creating an awkward moment for a bunch of folks in tuxedos and gowns. Clearly, this is not the way to go when the human, economic, social or safety impact of a crisis is real. What I am saying is that every crisis doesn’t need to be treated as a disaster. Even if it’s magnified by social media. Evaluate every crisis with a clear-eyed view of its human impact and an understanding about what it says about your brand. By those measures, I truly believe that PwC’s little Oscar kerfuffle will rate somewhere between a blip and an oh-boy. In terms of the long-term impact on PwC’s reputation, that’s more of a forehead slap than a body blow.

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