7 Steps to a (Nearly) Foolproof Awards Envelope System

By Hayley Panagakis, February 27, 2017

Last night’s Oscars was a planner’s worst nightmare. No, we’re not talking about the too-frequent political jabs made throughout the awards show (maybe I’m alone on this, but I like to take a break from politics when I watch broadcasts like the Oscars). The nightmare occurred at the end of the Academy Awards when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway unknowingly announced the wrong winner for Best Picture, reading “La La Land” as the recipient instead of the true winner, “Moonlight.”

Unlike the Steve Harvey/Miss Universe debacle in 2015 when Harvey read the wrong name printed correctly on the envelope, Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong card. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm responsible for counting Oscars ballots, handed Beatty a duplicate copy of the already announced Best Actress award envelope honoring Emma Stone for her role in “La La Land.” The mishap caused a lot of confusion as the entire “La La Land” cast stepped onstage, began their thank-you speeches and were quickly told they didn’t win, prompting the “Moonlight” cast to take their place in the spotlight.

Avoid a fiasco like this one by implementing these seven steps to a foolproof envelope system.

1. Clearly label each envelope.

This should be a no-brainer, but it’s a must with awards ceremonies. Make sure each envelope is correctly labeled and stored in an organized way. Also check and recheck the envelopes to ensure announcement cards were placed correctly. Have more than one person check the envelopes to confirm everything is in order.

2. Limit envelope duty to one person.

While on-site, give one person the responsibility of handing out the envelopes. This is the best way to avoid confusion because they’ll be able to keep track of what’s been given out already and what’s left. Also, from a crisis management perspective, having one point of contact is the quickest way to find out what went wrong.

3. Color code envelopes.

Careful planning means you have a backup for everything. In this case, a duplicate copy of the Best Actress award envelope was the cause of the fiasco. It’s OK to have duplicate envelopes on-site in case one goes missing, but make the secondary envelopes and announcement cards a different color from the originals. The person who handed the envelope to Beatty may have prevented the mistake if they saw the envelope was black instead of bright red like the originals.

4. Have a designated place where used or read envelopes go.

Presenters should not give envelopes back to the person who handed it to them—it’s asking for disaster. Whether used envelopes go in the trashcan or are held on to for later, make it clear to presenters where they’re supposed to discard them. The best scenario is to have another staff member responsible for taking up cards as presenters go offstage.

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