5 things digital marketers can learn from Steve Harvey’s Miss Universe pageant mistake

Steve Harvey is known for a lot of things — a syndicated radio and daytime TV show host; popular comedian; a New York Times best-selling author whose relationship books have been adapted to top-rated Hollywood movies; celebrity spokesperson; and host of the popular game show, Family Feud.

But now add another dubious distinction to the list: Steve Harvey broke the Internet Sunday night when he announced the wrong winner of the 2015 Miss Universe contest. During a live FOX broadcast, Harvey mistakenly announced Miss Colombia as the winner of the 64th annual contest instead of Miss Philippines.

Oh, crap!

In what is now a legendary and infamous clip, Harvey apologized, re-announced the correct winner, and the previously announced winning contestant had her crown snatched on LIVE TV. Ummmm ….  In just hours, a tsunami of Internet memes sprouted (I swear, people do not sleep). And folks were ALL in their feelings about this. This is truly a communicator’s worst nightmare. And not to mention awkward as hell.

Any digital marketer, content marketer or anyone in the communications business can learn from Harvey’s mistakes, whether it’s for ourselves or our clients.

What we can learn

1. Admit you are wrong. Harvey did this — immediately. We’ve all messed up; some more than others. Put your big girl/boy underwear on, admit your mistake, and move on. His mistake on an international stage is bigger than many of us will ever make in our lifetimes. But as bad as I feel for Ms. Colombia, it’s not the end of the road for her, either, depending on her perspective.

“Nobody feels worse about this than me,” Harvey said.

It has got to feel like the worst “joke” in Harvey’s career. And everyone’s kicking him while he’s down.


2. React quickly and accurately. This is where social media comes in and it gets VERY tricky. Harvey apologized immediately and even showed a cue card at one point  (apparently, it was human error and the card may have been confusing to read). He put out a poorly-worded tweet moments after his mishap. Folks love to screenshot and an incorrect social media post can’t be taken back, unfortunately, even if you delete it. And now Harvey just has to deal. Hate to say it. But expect this to be on SNL.

3. Move on. Folks are using this as an opportunity to chide the comedian. I get it. You have to be thick skinned in comedy, and I’m sure Steve expected all the roasting. But think about it for a minute. Most folks doing most of the criticizing from their keyboards have probably never been an emcee or even spoken publicly. Harvey apologized. And all he can do from this is just deal. As painful as that might sound. This is what sometimes happens on live TV.

But you know the Internet goes – everyone has an opinion. Justin Bieber even got a dig in.


And to be sure, a lot of racial memes followed (I won’t bother reposting them, but let’s just say that incidents like this show you how folks REALLY feel).

No matter how you feel about Harvey — or his brand of comedy — most of us in the communications business are cringing right now; because we know this could have been us! How many times have we made a mistake in a public forum — whether it’s a tweet, an Instagram post, a blog post or live TV that went wrong?

Our mistake, hopefully, was not broadcast for the entire world to see and laugh at. I’ll be the first to tell you that I hate the Internet at times like these. And I’ll be the first one to raise my hand to say that I’m not without public mistakes. I was a presenter at a government conference about 5 years ago and PowerPoint issues before my presentation knocked me off my game; I knew my presentation backwards and forwards, but by the time I got my Powerpoint presentation to work, I was a nervous and stumbling, bumbling mess.

I had lost the audience’s confidence — and my own. I was later able to recover during an afternoon session but by then it was too late; I had lost my audience and my confidence was shot. I didn’t have to announce any winner. I wasn’t being recorded live. But I felt absolutely AWFUL.

In no way was my gaffe as big as Harvey’s — folks around the world have voiced their opinions about this, and are taking to social media to vent. I can relate. And, I think deep down, all of us can.

4. Use a potentially negative opportunity to your advantage. Sometimes, the underdog wins. Let’s be clear: No one usually talks about the runner up, especially in these types of beauty pageants where second place is a distant memory. No one even cares. But everyone IS talking about Ms. Colombia and probably will for some time.

I hope she uses this to her advantage. I’d be on every talk show running my mouth and making sure I get my fame — and then some. This is an amazing opportunity provided to her, if she markets it right. Let’s hope she uses it well.

5. Act like a brand — even if you aren’t one yet or if you are managing a wanna be brand. Steve Harvey is a brand — with investments across the media spectrum. And brands do the tough thing, even when it’s easier not to. It would have been easier for Harvey, a first-time host, to blame anyone else but himself. But he did not. Mistakes happen. All we can do is learn from them. I’m sure Harvey wishes there was a delay or he could have avoided such an earth shattering mistake.

But how can those of us who manage brands do the same? We can prepare. Mistakes will happen. How we handle them is a test of our true character – the ones we can’t hide behind a Facebook status or Instagram update or tweet.

P.S. I know I said “5 things we can learn” but I have to add this one: Hire a GOOD designer. Seriously. They’re worth their weight in gold. Because a good designer would have NEVER let a card designed with such a tiny print with the winner on the far left slide as pointed out here as pointed out by Brand specialist Eric Thomas. NEVAH. I can see how this card would be hard to read and anyone of us could have made this same mistake with such a font so tiny and laid out this way. A college intern could have designed this better.

Tenisha Mercer is a digital branding and social media expert based in Atlanta. She has led digital rebranding campaigns for clients such as The Home Depot, YP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sears, NCR, 1-800-Flowers, and small businesses nationwide. Tenisha is an award-winning SEO writer in Atlanta whose content ranks #1 on Google and has been featured in hundreds of websites around the world.




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