Oscars 2023: The Academy hires crisis team 1 year after 'the slap' — here's what that means

Crisis PR experts tell us what show producers might be prepping for Sunday night.

Will Smith hits Chris Rock on stage during the 94th Academy Awards on March 27, 2022.
Will Smith hits Chris Rock on stage during the 94th Academy Awards on March 27, 2022. (Photo: Reuters)

The Oscars are two days away, and while Hollywood seems excited to celebrate the industry's biggest night, it's hard not to talk about the awards show without mentioning "the slap." When Will Smith hit Chris Rock on stage last year, not only was it one of the most shocking moments in Oscars history, it was one of the most shocking moments to ever happen on live television.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Bill Kramer recently revealed, that for the first time ever, a "crisis team" has been put in place to deal with other potential surprise moments. The organization was widely criticized for its handling of the incident as Smith, who went on to win his first-ever Oscar, was allowed to stay at the show after assaulting the comedian.

"We've run many scenarios," Kramer told Time. "So it is our hope that we will be prepared for anything that we may not anticipate right now but that we’re planning for just in case it does happen."

Kramer noted they brought back Jimmy Kimmel to host for a third time, because should something go awry, the late night veteran "can really pivot and manage those moments."

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Kimmel said he empathizes with show producers as it's hard to be prepared for such a shocking moment.

"I don't think this is something that anyone could imagine would happen. I've had this thought: I've been hosting these live award shows, and there's very little protection as far as the stage goes. Anyone who's in that building can walk right up onstage. I almost hesitate to say this because I don't want to encourage people to do that, but there are going to be some dingbats in a room full of 3,500 people, and the fact that it hasn't happened more surprises me," Kimmel declared. "They were saying they 'ran through a bunch of scenarios' and are 'prepared for everything,' and I would have loved to have been in that meeting because I can't imagine what those scenarios were."

Well, Yahoo Entertainment spoke with two crisis PR experts who shed light on what the Academy might be prepping for. Here's what you need to know.

What is a crisis team, exactly?

"A typical crisis team is responsible for preparing an organization for a major event that may threaten the organization itself, its reputation, its stakeholders, and/or the general public," Ronn Torossian, Founder & Chairman of 5WPR, explains. "PR professionals play a vital part in crisis communications."

Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, adds: "A crisis team prevents and manages events to avoid all, from the grossly stupid to shocking acts, and how to recover and protect the show and celebrities' images and ensure the negative press gets influenced effectively. This team's job is to plan all scenarios, then take action if something goes kaboom."

What are the benefits of having a crisis team on hand at something as high-profile as the Oscars?

Torossian says having a skilled team in place will help the Academy adapt to situations in real-time.

"In today's world, where live broadcast events are taking place as much in the venue itself as they are in the real-time conversation on social media, [a crisis team] will be able to react, manage and mitigate a story as it unfolds," he shares. "No longer do organizations have the luxury of managing the conversation before it hits the news the next day, so they need to have a team in place that can work in-the-moment, while producers and those involved in the event must stay focused on keeping the show going."

What situations could the Academy be prepping for this year?

According to Schiffer, the Academy is likely "preparing for everything from controversial speeches, wardrobe malfunctions, and even the remote chance of a differentiated version of 'the slap.'"

"The Academy was clueless in real-time with Will Smith's actions, and the criticism rained on the organization's delayed response and inaction. This year, the Academy is dead set that the Oscars won't make the same foolish mistakes," he says.

Torossian believes "the slap" was "a once in a lifetime crisis." While he thinks the Academy's announcement of a crisis PR team could be "a bit performative," businesses and organizations as prestigious as the Academy "should have crisis communications and media plans in place, especially given the current landscape" if something were to happen again.

If something does happen like last year's incident, what would a strategy look like in real time?

"They need to act fast to remove any person or persons from the stage and camera while gathering all facts before making a timely and authentic statement," Schiffer explains. "A win is getting through the event with the brand's reputation intact and not in the septic muck of crisis chaos."

Will the crisis team need to spring into action on Sunday? Tune into the Oscars at 5 p.m. PT on ABC.