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PR Lessons to Learn from These Oscar Fails

By March 1, 2018July 22nd, 2020Public Relations

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time for the film industry’s most prestigious event, the Academy Awards, which will be presented March 4 in the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles.

Many of us will be watching and rooting for our favorite films of 2017 to take home the prize. But what lessons can communications and PR pros learn from the event?

Let’s look at some of the most notable Oscar fails to see what we can take away:

1. Fact-checking counts

Last year, when the In-Memoriam reel ran, there was a photo of the wrong person accompanying one of the names. When the name Janet Patterson, a costume designer, appeared, it featured a photo of Jan Chapman, a collaborator of Patterson’s who is still very much alive. Oops.

Takeaway: Be sure to fact-check and proofread EVERYTHING to avoid making humiliating mistakes.

2. Crises happen

One of the biggest flubs ever happened at last year’s event, when was the wrong film was called as Best Picture. EEK! Instead of announcing the actual winner, “Moonlight,” the presenters read, “La La Land.” This was due to a mix-up in the envelopes containing the results.

The firm responsible for the error, PwC, swiftly apologized, taking full responsibility. Guess what? They were able to keep their role as vote tabulator for the event.

Takeaway: If you make a mistake, apologize – quickly and sincerely. Fall on your sword, and you may minimize the fallout.

3. Speakers take note 

Acceptance speeches are always fodder for criticism at the Oscars. Take for example the year Anne Hathaway drew ire for what some thought was an over-rehearsed acceptance speech.

Takeaway: Be sure to keep the authenticity when you speak-or when you write or prepare a speech for someone else. The same goes for writing articles or scripts. People crave authenticity. Give them what they want.

 4. Humor is a risk 

The year David Letterman hosted, he just couldn’t stop with his joke introducing Uma Thurman to Oprah Winfrey. “Uma, Oprah. Oprah, Uma.” And so on. Repeatedly throughout the night, Letterman made the crack – which seemed to fall flat with the live audience, as well as with viewers. Some even found it offensive, including Oprah herself.

Takeaway: Sometimes it’s fun to use humor in your marketing efforts, on social media and so on – but it IS a risk. Test it out to make sure you’re not the only one laughing.

5. Be prepared for the unexpected 

Back to the Best Picture fiasco of last year. When the producers of Moonlight learned they’d won, they were caught off guard. They had to scramble to come up with remarks while still in shock about how the announcement took place. They were able to handle it with grace by being authentic and ad-libbing in the moment.

Takeaway: Coach spokespeople to rehearse their remarks, but if circumstances change on the fly, it helps if they’re prepared to make changes and wing it, if necessary.

6. Avoid the wrap-up music 

It’s inevitable every year that when winners accept their award, there are those who ramble. While we won’t name any names, you know it when you see it.

Takeaway: When you shoot videos and create social media posts, be brief and get to the point – otherwise, you may lose your audience.

7. Play to your strengths 

The example here is the Rob Lowe duet with an actress playing Snow White at the 1989 Oscars. Lowe, who isn’t a singer, was off-key for most of the opening number. Maybe it was supposed to be funny – but it was considered one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of the show.

Takeaway: Stick with what you’re good at. If your brand isn’t known for something, use care when attempting to include it in your next campaign. Play to your strengths, and test anything that may fall outside the box before you launch it widely.

 8. Preparation matters 

Many of us remember the year John Travolta introduced Idina Menzel as Adele Dazeem. While it may have been an innocent mistake, it probably wouldn’t have happened if Travolta had prepared beforehand by reviewing the script and rehearsing the pronunciation, saving himself the embarrassment associated with the incident, at which people mercilessly poked fun.

Takeaway: Do your homework. Whether you’re preparing for a presentation, a speech, a job interview or any occasion when you have to speak in front of others, a little preparation is in order. Review your material. Know how to pronounce names or other terms that may cause you to stumble.

 9. Don’t be boring

We often see winners give acceptance speeches that all seem to sound the same. They thank their director, their fellow nominees, their agent….blah, blah, blah. But, in 2014, Jared Leto’s acceptance speech for his Best Supporting Actor award captured hearts everywhere. He told the story of a teenage girl, a dropout who was pregnant with her second child but managed to “make a better life for herself and her children”. He went on to say that girl was his mom.

Takeaway: Some of the most powerful moments are when the winners tell stories about their humble beginnings and how they made it big. Storytelling is an effective approach to many communication challenges. People relate to stories that make them feel something, versus the same old dry verbiage they hear over and over.



So, PR friends, as you watch this year’s Oscars, keep your eyes open for lessons you can learn from Hollywood’s biggest night.


By Michelle Garrett, Garrett Public Relations

You’ll find Michelle Garrett at the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. As a public relations consultant, content writer, blogger and speaker, Michelle’s articles and advice have been featured in publications including Entrepreneur, Forbes, Ragan’s PR Daily and Spin Sucks. She was named a Top 100 PR Influencer by Onalytica and sits on the advisory council of the National Organization of American Women in Public Relations (Women in PR USA™).

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