How does it feel to achieve your lifelong goal only to have it taken away from you moments later? Just ask Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez-Arévalo who was mistakenly announced as Miss Universe 2015 at the pageant last night by this year’s host Steve Harvey.
The overjoyed, newly crowned Miss Universe was half way through her celebratory wave to the audience when Harvey came back on stage to make a devastating correction: “Miss Universe 2015 is Philippines,” said Harvey, completely bewildering the audience and the contestants.
In a moment of incredible awkwardness, the crown then was taken off Miss Colombia and given to the previously assumed first runner-up Pia Alonzo Wurztbach of the Philippines.
The communication blunders, however, didn’t stop there. After the pageant, Harvey hurried to issue an apology on Twitter, in which he misspelled the names of both countries, saying: “I want to apologize emphatically to Miss Philippians and Miss Columbia. This was a terribly honest human mistake and I am so regretful.”
From a crisis PR standpoint, there are at least four lessons we can all learn from this unfortunate incident:
- Preparation: Steve Harvey’s mistake was probably due in part to poor planning, lack of preparation for the key role he was filling, and perhaps general unfamiliarity with how pageant winners are traditionally announced. (That and a somewhat confusing cue card that listed the winner well below on the page.) Had Harvey and whoever was responsible for printing the cue card extensively rehearsed beforehand, the mistake would likely have been avoided.
- Human touch: Harvey’s correction was understandably devastating for Ms. Gutierrez-Arévalo, and he could’ve softened the moment’s awkwardness by addressing her personally first off-mic before marking a correction announcement as she stood bewildered at center stage.
- Proper follow up: When it comes to crisis response, the last thing you want to do is to make things worse by compounding one mistake with another error when the world’s eyes are upon you. Harvey should have taken a deep breath, double-checked, and proofread his tweets before sending them.
- Accountability: Owning your mistakes is another key aspect of effective crisis PR, and this is where Steve Harvey deserves significant credit. From the moment he made his mistake, Harvey took full responsibility and expressed what seemed like heartfelt remorse. The same was true for him owning the error in his Twitter apologies.
As for Miss Colombia, despite having the crown taken away from her on live television, she handled the bitter news with the grace and dignity of a true queen.