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Crisis Management Lessons from The Oscars’ Envelope Gaffe

Mar 14, 2017 | Operating Your Company

“You got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.” — U2

The 2017 Academy Awards may be old news but its envelope-handling blunder poses two questions you’re bound to ask during your business’ life cycle:

“What you should you do if you fail a longtime client?”


“What should you do if the client fails you?”

Today we’ll explore answers to the first question with the following a scenario: Your employee delivers the wrong box of valuable files to a client who needed it immediately for a one-time purpose.

Both parties’ money, reputations, and relationships are at stake now, and this crisis has involved everyone up the chain to, ultimately, you. How you react will be noted by your whole company and could salvage your relationship and reputation.

Contact the Client

Recognize that the damage is done and that mending the relationship is crucial. As quickly as possible, acknowledge this in a personalized phone call, email or meeting that allows the dialogue to continue and wait for a response. Prepare to receive a verbal whipping. At best, the client will vent. Either way, make the client feel as though the complaints have been heard.

Convey sincerity in your message and let them know that you:

  • Value your relationship
  • Are figuring out a way to make it up to them
  • Will take steps to prevent a reoccurrence
  • Are personally investigating what happened


The employee needs to face the music. Bring him or her into your office, and just ask questions. What and how you ask depends on you, and hopefully you will be calm at the time. Laying into the person too much is not going to undo the mistake, no matter how cathartic it may feel. Once you have your answers…


Not just the fate of your worker, but how the company will act moving forward.

We’ll assume the action was not malicious. If the action was malicious or willful, that would instantly be grounds for termination, but weigh how valuable and trustworthy the employee is to your organization.

If your employee seems genuinely remorseful, that could be an influencer. I’ve had employees make large mistakes and either deflect, deny or act as though they don’t care and “just want to move on.” You can imagine how quickly I showed them the door based on their attitudes alone.

PwC handled the fate of the offending accountant appropriately for them. The company quietly confirmed that he won’t be involved with the Academy Awards anymore. So far, he’s still employed. He’s a VP with 20 years of experience at the company, so it’s tough to justify his termination over one bad incident. To further put things in perspective, Bill Buckner was still on the Boston Red Sox’s starting lineup for game 7 of the 1986 World Series, 24 hours after the infamous “through the legs” error.

Your actions will immediately be noticed by your staff and will set a precedent for the company. Install fail safes, set examples, and show that your leadership is undeterred by this momentary crisis. The client will note how you act and may be willing to let you out of the doghouse quicker than if you just hid behind your desk.

Next week, we’ll discuss how to handle a mistake made by your client. Leave a comment for us below.


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I formerly worked as a satellite employee from my home state of New Jersey. I ended my employment with my former employer in 2016. In 2018, I was sued by my former employer for $1.1 million in Illinois State Court. I was referred to Brinen & Associates, LLC by a friend who is a client of the firm. Brinen & Associates, LLC came highly recommended. I contacted Joshua Brinen and then had a consultation at his office with his colleague Mark White. Together, Messrs. Brinen and White explained my options...

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