Perhaps you noticed that there was a screwup at the Oscars last night. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced that “La La Land” had won the Academy Award for Best Picture . . . and then had to backtrack, because there was a mistake. “Moonlight” was the actual winner.
After the mistake, many people behaved graciously. In what has to be the most heartbreaking moment of his career, “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz realized he didn’t receive his first Oscar, and then beckoned the producers of “Moonlight” to come on stage. Warren Beatty explained why he’d made the mistake — he’d gotten the wrong envelope.
But who was responsible for the screwup? It was PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that counts the votes and determines the winners.
PriceWaterhouseCooper’s statement is a model apology
Here’s PwC’s statement just after the event:
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. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.
We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.
If you make a mistake, learn from this:
- It’s short: 76 words.
- It acknowledges who was hurt: the winning movie, the movie that thought it won, the people on stage, and the public.
- It explains what happened: they got the wrong envelope.
- It explains what will happen next: they’ll figure out how to improve their process.
It does include passive voice (“had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope”) in a sentence that’s not grammatically correct. Clearly somebody was in a hurry. An active voice correction would be “Our representatives mistakenly gave the presenters the wrong category envelope; when we discovered the error, we immediately corrected it.” Perhaps somebody other than PwC is responsible; even so, they take responsibility.
Admittedly, this is the movies, not famine, disease, or corporate misconduct. But it was a very public mistake on one of the most popular broadcasts of the year. The lesson is the same, regardless of the visibility or significance of the error: take responsibility, apologize to the people you hurt, explain what happened, explain how you will fix it, and then get off the damn stage.