Bad PR: An #OscarsSoWhite framework

This year, The 88th Annual Oscar Awards will be held. However, fresh controversy has consumed the coverage building up to the prestigious event. The uproar comes after it was revealed that all of the nominees for the acting categories were white for the second year in a row. Now it feels as though the whole ceremony has been tarnished, even as a Leonardo Di Caprio fan, it feels like the buzz has been taken out of the fact that it looks like this may be the year he finally win’s his first Academy Award.

The trending topic #OscarsSoWhite, coupled with the fact that big names such as Will and Jada Smith and Spike Lee have refused to attend the event, is a PR disaster for the event and many would argue that the integrity for at least this year’s ceremony has been lost. While the Oscars will likely survive this controversy, handling negative publicity is very important for events, especially in cases of repeat events such as these awards. Even events of a smaller scope should take note of what to do in times of PR crisis such as this due to the fact that they may not have the benefit of being an institution to fall back on. Without further ado; how do you solve a problem like the 2016 Oscars?

Marketing Donut have some tips for handling bad publicity:

  1. Prevention: “Planning and sound preparation can significantly reduce the ch3ances of getting bad press. Staff training is essential – your employees are ambassadors for your firm”
    Looking to the academy’s personnel: the president of the academy is an African American woman named Cheryl Boone Isaacs (right). All good so far until you look at who makes up the members of the academy and therefore who votes for the nominees and winners. According to the LA Times “Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%”. The diversity issue isn’t helped by the fact that the ‘ambassadors of the firm’ don’t fairly represent the population of film industry.
  2. Managing bad publicity: “If your firm is being criticised in the media online, respond quickly, honestly and decisively. If you are at fault, own up and apologise”
    Following the initial controversy, the president of the academy released a statement in which she said “As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. but the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly”. This statement came 10 days after the nominees were announced; not necessarily a quick response however one that admitted fault.
  1. After the PR crisis: “After getting bad publicity you need to produce positive PR. Emphasise some positive stories, such as improved practices and community involvement”
    Four days prior to the apology statement, news broke that the members of the academy held an emergency meeting in which they voted on changes that they say will increase their diversity by 2020. Their goal is now to double “women and diverse members” within the next 4 years. This quick turnaround and plan for improvement was a good decision. It shows that they know there’s a problem and they’re genuinely passionate enough to try and fix it quickly. Whether this helps this year’s negative spin and puts the shine back on Leo’s potential Oscar win remains to be seen.

I think this year has been tarnished and this takes away from 2016’s winners (isn’t winning a moot point when the nominee shortlist is so flawed?), however I do think that 4the post-#OscarsSoWhite PR has been as good as it could’ve been with such poor prevention. I think that people in the event industry, including me in my future career, should take note: prevent what you can, apologise for what you can’t, prove that you won’t let it happen again.

(Good luck Leo)



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