Home – PR Storylines and Lessons from the Oscars

PR Storylines and Lessons from the Oscars

Posted on 02-27-2017 by Megan Burnside

 When the Academy Awards ceremony takes place, millions tune into the pageantry and excitement of the big night. Of course, as a PR professional, you have your own perspective of Hollywood's celebration of itself. There are plenty of lessons and useful tactics embedded in the endless campaigns actors, directors, producers and studios wage on behalf of their films. Taking an incisive look at the Oscars is a great way to think about PR in the modern age. Some of the tactics that have brought these particular movies and stars to the top of their industry can help your next campaign take flight.

One big unknown leading up to last night: Politics

The film industry has to grapple with a thorny topic that your own brand may be facing already: How to deal with the fraught and divided state of American politics in 2017. In the age of social media, companies and stars alike have a platform to speak with their audiences on a direct level. But should these discussions include political elements?

The Los Angeles Times recently delved into whether celebs will talk about politics at the Oscars, and the conflict they express is likely relevant to your own branding discussions. The news source pointed out that in a polarized climate, taking either side of a political debate runs the risk of losing approval from at least some of the population. The answer of what level of speech to engage in then becomes individual.

There is another relevant angle to the debate over whether to be overtly political: The question depends on what role in the ceremony a person is playing. The Times pointed out that while nominees for awards will be performing calculus as to whether or not to be overtly political, hosts throughout awards season have dove in with jokes and criticism for the new administration. Their roles as comedic commentators has made it natural for these individuals not to ignore the elephant in the room.

So what played out? If you tuned in, you watched Jimmy Kimmel dive head first into comedic attacks of the President and the new administration. You saw many actors and actresses adorning ribbons in support of ACLU, planned parenthood, and AIDS research. Finally, we heard impassioned, deeply personal stories about policies and social issues.

Last year, the Academy Awards got called out for lack of diversity #OscarsSoWhite. Along with a diverse set of nominees, the Oscars in 2017 proved to set a more inclusive note with huge wins for under-represented groups. The biggest award, along with several including writing, went to Moonlight, whose writers dedicated their Adapted Screenplay Oscar to “people out there who feel like there’s no mirror.” For a roundup of all of the political moments of the Oscars, check out this Times article

How do you apply this to your brand? Does your brand have stakes in social issues and personal stories to tell? Your brand's overall tone and place in its industry will likewise play a part in whether your audience will embrace, tolerate or dismiss hearing a political statement. 

Stretching the season

Beyond the tone of discussion on the Oscars stage, the ceremony packs plenty of other trends that will be relevant to your next PR campaign. For instance, Flavorwire pointed out that film executives, eager to reap the benefits of award consideration earlier than in years past, have pushed the start of awards season into August and September, many months before films are even nominated, never mind awarded.

The fact that there is early interest in awards contenders has been exacerbated by the rise of more film-centric media outlets. Writer Anne Thomson told Flavorwire that the increase in coverage has created demand for longer and more intense promotional campaigns, ones that have become a cottage industry within the prestige film space. This, then, is a valuable takeaway for the PR industry: Keep an eye out for new interest in what it is you're selling and you may find great new opportunities.

Avoiding the wrap-up music

One more PR lesson from the Oscars comes from the stars' acceptance speeches. Healthcare industry PR pro and FierceHealthcare columnist Jenn Riggle recently pointed out that watching rambling and unplanned remarks from award winners should send a message about how not to craft compelling brand content such as videos and social media posts. When you don't plan out your materials and embrace brevity, you may lose your audience's attention and receive the proverbial wrap-it-up fanfare. A careful eye for detail can transform your campaign for the better.

Last night, you were able to enjoy the pageantry and excitement of Hollywood's big night. Most speeches were eloquent with only a few facing wrap-up music--outside of the multi-winner categories and Kimmel's prank on Matt Damon.

The biggest shock of acceptance speeches came when producers of the show appeared on stage while La La Land was accepting Best Picture. After being notified of the mix up, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz quickly recovered and announced the snafu so simply and graciously, "I’m going to be really proud to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.” With those words, Moonlight cast and crew took to the stage. All still in shock, Moonlight producer Adele Romanski relayed her surprise, "Thank you to the aca—? I don’t know what to say. That was really — I’m still not sure this is real, but thank you to the academy." She recovered her message and then handed it off to Barry Jenkins who closed out their acceptance. With a technical misstep, there were awkward moments for both films' teams. Both impacted teams were in shock, but with their authentically, they both won in the acceptance speech world. 

Being prepared with your message is important but best plans can get thwarted, so keep in mind that authenticity and being a graceful winner (or loser) is just as important. Are your spokespeople fully prepped and appropriate for any situation thrown at them?

3 Ways to Apply This Information Now

  1. Keep up with the media buzz with a media monitoring and analytics solution like LexisNexis Newsdesk®.  
  2. Check out other posts relating to PR and to see how we’re using LexisNexis Newsdesk to track a number of topics.
  3. Share this blog on LinkedIn to keep the dialogue going with your colleagues and contacts


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