PR Failure #14: Messy Decisions Impact Your Reputation (Thank you to the Academy!)

Aaron Blank / March 8, 2019

 

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Another Month, Another Blunder.
February, the month with the shortest number of days, is gone! As we’ve stated before, we only grow from learning and moving on from our own shortcomings. We’re human, right? And although no one is rooting for a failure, it will always be a crucial part in the learning process. This year, February brought Seattle’s #Snowmageddon troubles that nobody could have anticipated, which was also our first month back with a functioning government, and the end to yet another award show season.
Looking for January’s PR blunder? Read about it here.
With 35 awards ceremonies, the five-month season is saturated, forcing each ceremony to compete for viewership. While the Academy Awards consistently attracts the highest audience, 2018 marked its lowest viewership yet, at a stumbling 26.5 million. The 91st Oscars aired on February 24th and the results are in: The award for the PR Fail of February 2019 goes to… The Oscars! *cue music*
The Story:
The Academy of Motion picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS or The Academy) is the premier association of cinema and film, each year selecting and awarding the best of the best at the Academy Awards. With cable subscriptions on the decline, and younger audiences less inclined to watch, the Academy has been attempting to bring viewers back with ill-considered, controversial decisions.
Not only is the Academy announcing new changes, but it has consistently retracted these decisions due to negative publicity and public outcry. The list of changes made and reversed (in brief) includes:
• The decision to give out four awards during commercial breaks with the intent to keep the show under three hours. Two of these categories include Best Editing and Best Cinematography and promptly received backlash from celebrated filmmakers, like Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, and audiences alike.
• Breaking the tradition of inviting back past Oscar winners Allison Janney, Frances McDormand, Gary Oldman and Sam Rockwell to announce the 2019 winners of Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress.
• Announcing popular comedian Kevin Hart as the 2019 Oscars’ host, only to have him withdraw from the position two days later due to the surfacing of derogatory tweets posted nearly a decade ago.
• The addition of an Achievement in Popular Film category, rewarding a box-office hit for its success.
According to AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson, the reasoning for these changes was to show audiences the Academy can evolve and change. While the Academy recognizes the importance of staying relevant in a changing broadcast environment, the individual decisions seemed imprudent and rushed. But with an organization such as The Academy, where its reputation hinges on its credibility as being the leader in championing the industry’s success, public opinion is crucial.
With the 91st Oscars fast approaching, Hudson reversed each of the initial decisions, essentially leaving the ceremony unchanged. Are the Oscars evolving? Despite a 12 percent increase in viewership from last year, the Academy’s reputation is fragile. Instead of appearing as the preeminent experts on motion arts and sciences, the Academy is losing its credibility. To evolve, the Academy must first learn where they went wrong.
The Mistake(s)
1. Be decisive and stick to the plan
The Academy appears to only be sure of one thing: To get back to large audience numbers, they must evolve in the changing world of broadcast. What they haven’t figured out is how to do this. It appears they think of an idea, announce it to the public, see a differing opinion, and take it back.
Not every decision an organization makes will be seen favorably. Sometimes the most controversial decisions have the biggest payoffs. The Academy needs to make a decision and stand by it, even if public outcry is unfavorable. As author Adam Werbach wrote, “Act now, apologize later.” The Academy must commit to an action, regardless of what others think, in order to excel beyond it’s limits. Evolution will never happen by taking one step forward and two steps back.
As the Academy proceeds, decisions should be well-planned as not to come across as hasty. The communication around these decisions should be concise and firm. Prior to announcing a decision, the Academy should prepare messaging internally, including possible questions the media might raise, and how to provide thoughtful answers to these questions while upholding their decision.
2. Think outside the box
Claiming they’re evolving with ideas like inviting blockbuster celebrities as hosts and the potential addition of a popular movie category as a thinly veiled attempt to attract younger audiences shows the Oscars weren’t looking at the big (motion) picture.
A brainstorm session where any idea, no matter how outrageous, is thrown around and considered can get the Academy thinking outside the box and view the issue from all angles. Problem-solving requires both right-brain creativity and left-brain analysis. By taking the steps to define and analyze the problem, such as balancing low viewership with the Academy’s overall mission, you can evaluate possible remedies and eventually, hopefully, craft a solution.
While I may not have the one-of-a-kind answer the Academy needs, you have to believe it exists. Brainstorming, avoiding Groupthink, and never criticizing an eccentric thought is the key to finding a revolutionary idea and is truly the first stepping stone to any successful PR or marketing campaign. Check out more tips on creating a productive brainstorming session here.
3. Stick to your mission
The Academy’s mission reads, “We recognize and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspire imagination, and connect the world through the medium of motion pictures.
This statement should be the driving force behind every decision the Academy makes.
By focusing on recognizing and upholding excellence as the number one priority, and thinking about audience size secondary, the Oscars will remain true to their business model and repair their reputation. While innovation is crucial, the Academy should always operate with the intent to recognize and uphold excellence.
It’s too easy to let popularity and profits make decisions for you. By reminding your team of the values of your organization, you will soon realize your decision is easier to make than you thought. Even if your decision is unpopular, if it upholds your mission, it will be more easily forgiven — and understood. Find tips on how to put your mission front and center of your communication strategies and create a culture that prides itself on organizational values here .
The Lesson Learned:
Even though the Oscars saw an increase in viewership this year, we attribute it more to Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s onstage chemistry and the diverse group of winners compared to previous years, including people of color winning three of four major acting awards!
Perhaps the way to evolve isn’t introducing the next big category or finding a pop culture comedian to host. When people are happy with the results of the Oscars, ratings improve. By focusing on who exudes excellence in the film industry – the mission the Academy upholds – and communicating that effectively, the Oscars may be able to redeem themselves after a faulty 2018-2019 season.
Hopefully, the Academy can continue to raise audience numbers and restore its reputation as the champion of awards shows. We still have some time before the 92nd Oscars, and I am sure the Academy is busy at work thinking about what will give them an edge for next year. With a host-less Oscars turning out better than expected, we are curious to see who they invite back next year.
Until next month,
Aaron Blank
CEO + President
The Fearey Group
For more information about The Fearey Group, check us out online at www.feareygroup.com.
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Aaron Blank

CEO, Owner

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as CEO and owner of The Fearey Group, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day!