Can PwC's reputation overcome #EnvelopeGate? 5 experts weigh in

PricewaterhouseCoopers' reputation took a hit Sunday when a mix-up of envelopes at the 89th Academy Awards spoiled the Best Picture ceremony. This is what experts say the professional services firm must do next.

Image via The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Twitter page
Image via The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Twitter page

LOS ANGELES: PricewaterhouseCoopers can salvage its reputation following #EnvelopeGate, but only if the professional services firm provides clarity and transparency about what happened during the Academy Awards, say experts.

After a mix-up of envelopes spoiled the Best Picture award, Warren Beatty, who was one of the co-presenters of the award, has gone on record to exonerate himself despite pushback from Emma Stone, who won Best Actress for her role in La La Land.

PwC issued an apology and pledged to investigate its highly visible flub shortly after. After 83 years of controversy-free ballot-casting for the Oscars, the firm finds itself putting out the fires of a crisis.

#EnvelopeGate proliferated across social media on Monday — much to the delight of some brands — and conspiracy theories abounded.

Here’s what five experts say about the situation.

Ed Adler, partner, Finsbury
Their reputation will suffer unless they can with great clarity say what happened and take the blame. If you look at social media today and what happened after, it remains unclear to everybody watching whose fault it was. Indeed, if there was a mix up in the envelopes as they say, they should be transparent, say exactly what happened, how they will fix it, and how they will ensure it won’t happen going forward. If they do it in a timely and transparent fashion [within the next couple days], their reputation won’t suffer. They came out with a statement last night [where] they apologized to everyone, but it wasn’t emphatic enough they were the party that should take the blame.

Doug Spong, founder and CEO, The Doug Spong Co.
PwC will live with this gaffe for years to come. It’s now part of Oscar legend. However, there’s no threat to the firm’s ongoing reputation, because the integrity of the results and confidentiality are not in question. The error is the simplest human error possible. 

A simple, firm, and prompt explanation of how the wrong envelope got in the right hands will answer most reasonable people's questions. A sincere apology to the Academy, producers, and audience will suffice. Toss [in] a sense of humor to deal with the jokes on social media, and this issue goes cold.

Anthony Sabino, professor, St. John’s University’s Peter J. Tobin College of Business
Certainly, PwC suffered a black eye at last night’s Oscars. But black eyes heal and are then forgotten. The firm long known as the "Tiffany" of the big accounting firms will suffer no lasting effects. While all the facts are not in yet, it would appear to be simple human error. After decades of flawless performance, it was bound to happen eventually. 

Katie Sprehe, director of reputation research, APCO Insight
They need to own up to their mistake, take responsibility, be transparent, and explain what happened. Most don’t understand the intricacies of the process and methodology to ensure the accuracy of the vote. If they opened up the vault and explained to the broader public all that goes into it and [couple that with] the fact it’s been done right for 83 years, people would be more understanding. This mistake is a violation of what the company stands for [integrity and accuracy]. If they don’t take it seriously, it has the possibility of, maybe not damaging them permanently, but it could tarnish them.

Matt Kucharski, president, PadillaCRT
While the mistake last night clearly shouldn't have happened, I would be surprised if this had a long-term effect on PwC's reputation with existing or prospective customers or employees. There's a big difference between mishandling of a secret envelope at an awards show and advising clients on finance and business strategy. They took immediate responsibility and are moving quickly to investigate what happened. That's about all you can do in this situation except maybe send a nice bouquet of apology flowers to the cast members of La La Land

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