The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at the Academy Awards

New Staff Added to Leverage PR Team
February 22, 2016
SXSW FinTech Roundup
March 4, 2016

Perhaps appropriately considering it’s an election year, the 2016 Academy Awards turned into a political PR platform this year. The ceremony was centered on bringing relevant issues to light. While winning or presenting an award provides ample opportunity for positive PR, some of the attempts were more successful than others.

Here are some of the top PR lessons to take away from the 88th Oscars:

What Went Right

  1. Graceful Acknowledgement

Kerry Washington, Golden Globe nominated actress, publicly began the conversation at the pre-show during her interview with GMA’s Robin Roberts regarding the lack of the diversity – the most talked about topic of the night. She spoke highly of those that chose not to attend, and justified why she felt it was necessary for her to be part of the ceremony. “For me, my voice is best used at the table. As a new member of the Academy, I really want to be a part of the conversation so there is institutional change so we never have this again.”

We commend Kerry Washington for politely handling this sensitive and potentially controversial issue. She gave credit to her colleagues, while also not shaming the esteemed institution that she is now a part of.

  1. Sensitive Subject, Powerful Message

Arguably the most impactful message from this year’s Oscars was Vice President Joe Biden and Lady Gaga’s partnership to acknowledge sexual assault survivors and the #ItsOnUs campaign.  “Too many women and men, on and off college campuses, are still victims of sexual abuse,” Biden said. “Let’s change the culture so that no abused woman or man … ever feels like they have to ask themselves, ‘What did I do?’ They did nothing wrong.” Biden then introduced his friend, Lady Gaga, who performed her Oscar nominated song, ‘Til It Happens to You.’ Gaga herself is a sexual assault survivor and ended her performance by bringing 50 men and women survivors on the stage to join her in this impactful moment. Both Biden and Gaga received standing ovations for their powerful performance.

PR practitioners would also give Vice President Biden and Lady Gaga a standing ovation for using their platform to share with the audience and viewers a powerful personal and worldwide issue. Biden led with a call to action, and Gaga followed with a tear jerking performance to engrain the message of sexual assault into the public’s mind.

  1. Subtle Political Inserts

Director and screenwriter, Adam McKay, followed the campaign trail with his acceptance speech commentary. McKay warned voters and viewers by saying, “Most of all, if you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires: Stop!” Parallel with McKay’s speech that evening, DiCaprio snuck in his own political views during his acceptance speech. “Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It’s the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating,” he said. His speech advocates against politicians who are supporting polluters and it was the final political ploy of the night.

Although the awards ceremony was far more political than viewers had hoped, McKay and DiCaprio employed a smart PR tactic: using the stage when they knew they had the utmost attention from the audience, while also ensuring it wasn’t in lieu of a gracious ‘thank you’ speech, but in addition to one. Their political message was a tasteful addition and did not overpower the speech.


What Went Wrong

  1. Don’t Overdo It

Chris Rock had high expectations to live up to as he hosted the 2016 awards. He is known for his controversial comedy, and it was obvious that he would tackle the #OscarsSoWhite conversation. But arguably, instead of just addressing the issue, he ran with it and never looked back.

It was important for Chris Rock to highlight the diversity topic as it would have otherwise been an elephant in the room, but it didn’t need to be the theme of the entire evening. We would advise Chris Rock to ‘consolidate the message.’ One powerful point at the beginning of the ceremony would have been more effective than a selection of small jokes, some specifically aimed at other celebrities, throughout the whole award show.

  1. Puzzling Punchline

One of the most asked questions of the night was “Why was Stacey Dash at the Oscars?” The new director of minority outreach was the butt of an unfortunately confusing joke. This throwback to her controversial comments that America should do away with black history month and BET didn’t go over well with the crowd as audience members were left scratching their heads.

Not only was this the wrong person to bring onto the stage, but the point of the joke was not clear and concise, leading to uncomfortable silence and much audience confusion. Though using humor to get a point across can sometimes be an effective method, if it’s too obscure, the only message coming across to the audience is one of uncertainty.

  1. Check Your Facts

Sam Smith, Grammy award-winning singer/song writer, sparked a Twitter fiasco with former Oscar winner and openly gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black about his inaccurate acceptance speech. He dedicated his award Sunday to the gay community, saying, “I stand here tonight as a proud gay man and I hope that we can all stand together as equals one day.” During his speech, he misquoted Sir Ian McKellen, believing that an openly gay man had never won an Oscar.

Although Smith shed light on his issue of choice, not having accurate facts was a missed opportunity and a tragic PR fail.