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PwC reputation on the line after Oscars best picture gaffe

Producer Jordan Horowitz (2nd L) after mistakenly winning best picture for “La La Land” with presenter Warren Beatty and host Jimmy Kimmel. 

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

LONDON -- For 82 years, accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Cooper has enjoyed a reputational boon from handling the balloting process at the Academy Awards.

Now its hard-won image as a dependable partner is under threat.

The company was responsible for a colossal mistake at the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday night when actors Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty wrongly announced that the top Oscar went to “La La Land” instead of “Moonlight.”

The presenters, it turned out, had been given the wrong envelope by tabulators from PwC, in this case the one awarding Emma Stone for best actress for her role in “La La Land.” They eventually corrected the mistake on air, but it’s quickly become a cue for endless jokes and hilarity around the world.

For London-headquartered PwC, it’s anything but funny.

According to Nigel Currie, an independent London-based branding specialist with decades’ worth of industry experience, this mistake is “as bad a mess-up as you could imagine.”

“They had a pretty simple job to do and messed it up spectacularly,” he said. “They will be in deep crisis talks on how to deal with it.”

Currie says PwC has no other option than to front-up immediately and explain exactly what happened to contain the damage to its reputation. “They are absolutely in the spotlight for next week and for longer probably as it unfolds,” he said. “They have to show what happened.”

PwC has been quick to apologize but has yet to fully explain what happened. “The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and, when discovered, was immediately corrected,” a statement from the firm read. “We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.”

In fact, it took over two minutes on air, during which time the “La La Land” team gave three acceptance speeches, before PwC corrected the mistake on stage.