Fun PR takeaways from the Oscars

Every year when the Academy Awards ceremony rolls around, you’ll find me in the comfort of my bed ‒ well prepared with delicious takeout and my Twitter feed rolling with Oscar commentary. And while Sunday’s show earned the lowest ratings EVER in the program’s history, I loved (mostly) every minute of it as I always do. As an entertainment geek from the tender age of 2 (looking at your Sesame Street), it’s my Super Bowl party and one I prefer to enjoy alone.

After all of the glamour, awkward audience moments, awe of celebrity, points of jubilation and speeches are over, that’s when the PR side of my brain kicks back in. It’s fun to take some Oscars notes and apply to our everyday lives as communicators. Here are a few of those Oscar hangover takeaways! Enjoy.

History can, in fact, predict the future.

If you’ve been following along with this awards season dutifully, you would have bet a large sum on who would take the acting categories at this year’s Oscars. Laura Dern, Renée Zellweger, Brad Pitt and Joaquin Phoenix swept their respective categories at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTAs and yes, at the Academy Awards. It was as predicted by the entertainment experts. 

As practitioners, it’s vital that we work diligently to plan, identify trends and use historical perspective to map out specific results for a campaign, an event or a standalone tactic. This knowledge helps create a targeted strategy and meet client expectations. 

But surprises will reveal themselves, and sometimes that’s the absolute best thing that can happen.

As in all things in life, the Oscars weren’t short of some upsets ‒ or wonderful unfolding of history as I’d like to call it in this case. While the critically acclaimed South Korean film “Parasite” has received unabashed audience fervor since its release and a Palme d’Or win at the Cannes Film Festival (unanimously, I might add), I’m not sure any critic would have predicted it taking top prize at the Oscars in the form of Best Picture. Yearned for it, yes; seriously thought it would win, probably not. 

But the night’s momentum began swinging in film’s favor quite early. It first took Best Original Screenplay, then Best International Film Feature and in a major WHAT? moment of the night, Bong Joon-ho took home Best Director against some of the most well-known male directors in the business. I was over the moon. Something told me (see takeaway 1) that the best surprise was going to be saved for the end. And was it amazing. Jane Fonda opened the envelope and with more than a generous moment’s pause announced the Best Picture was “Parasite,” marking the first time in Oscar history that an international film took home the top honor. Night. Made.

Oh, the sweet and unadulterated joy of surprises (said no PR expert ever). We actually work to mitigate surprises and “manage” them when they do occur. Because to us, surprises are usually quite bad in nature. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Think of some of the most fun and impactful PR and marketing successes you’ve heard of like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or Aviation Gin’s hilarious mocking of a Peloton commercial that majorly misfired. Most likely, they weren’t engineered to be viral or create worldwide acclaim. They were just sincere and smart elements that took off beyond belief. Or maybe the ones you love and remember were pure accidents. When they happen, embrace the magic and rejoice.

You just can’t please everyone. 

One of my favorite aspects of the Oscars is to watch – and to laugh about the next day – is our top celebrities caught in a moment of “I didn’t know the camera was on me.” Their embarrassing and sometimes spot-on reactions to what’s happening on stage are priceless and become meme-worthy before you can click “tweet.”

Sunday’s ceremony didn’t disappoint. When Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig’s presenter schtick took them to a mini musical performance, Billie Eilish was like “huh?” Her confused look went viral immediately with an “OK, Boomer” moniker attached. For the record, I’m not a Boomer, and I thought it was quite entertaining. 

Also producing some Hall of Fame-worthy audience moments was Eminem’s performance of “Lose Yourself,” 17 years after he won the Academy Award for the song. Shock seemed abundant at first, followed by some major appreciation and get-down vibes (we see you Brie Larson, Ali Wong, Gal Gadot and Zazie Beets). But then there was Martin Scorsese being all unimpressed and Idina Menzel looking baffled. But his performance ended with a standing ovation.

Lesson here? You will never please everyone even with the most brilliant campaign. Someone will huff, someone will puff. Remember in these moments who you care about ‒ who makes or breaks the success of your organization. Oscar producers knew a majority of the audience would totally be into Eminem’s surprise performance, and they were. Do you think Maya and Kristen give a moment’s care that an 18-year-old (albeit a brilliant one) didn’t “get” their comedy? No. Because it’s OK that she doesn’t. It wasn’t for her. I would wager that most teenagers find something else to do on Oscar night.