In 1935 Price Waterhouse (now PwC) was engaged to count the ballots for the Academy Awards and its coveted Oscar. Price Waterhouse was the auditors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and this is an early example of cross-selling to add outside-the-box services to an engagement.
The Academy was organized in 1927 and it wanted to present awards for outstanding work within the film industry. It designed a statuette, with the first presentation in 1929. How Oscar got its name is subject to conjecture, but a columnist referred to the statuette as the Oscar in a 1934 article and the Academy adopted that name officially in 1939. Price Waterhouse was selected as the auditors for the Academy soon after its organization, and as the need arose, Price Waterhouse was given added assignments, including tabulating and overseeing internal balloting and income tax consulting.
Price Waterhouse was one of a number of large growing accounting firms. From what I could determine, it became active in the professional societies and in an age when advertising was forbidden, it performed some high-profile public service accounting roles to gather publicity. I found it interesting that the 1993 official history of Price Waterhouse, “Accounting for Success,” by David Grayson Allen and Kathleen McDermott, did not have any mention of its role with the Oscars, which I believe made it the most recognizable accounting firm at that time. I found some scattered references, but the most information I found was in Mark Stevens’ “The Big Eight,” published in 1981.
In 1933 the motion picture industry was experiencing financial difficulties and wanted its union workers to take pay cuts. Price Waterhouse was engaged to audit the studios to determine if they were really losing money and, if not, the pay cuts would be canceled. This added to their profile within that industry.
In 1935 Bette Davis was expected to win the Oscar, but she did not even receive a nomination. This caused an uproar about the validity and fairness of the award. To gain, or regain, credibility, Price Waterhouse was engaged to tabulate the ballots. Using the independent accounting firm added an element of trust and respectability to the award. In 1939, after a leak of the names of the winners, Price Waterhouse’s role was extended so it would be the only one that would know the identity of the winners until they were announced at the ceremony. When the Oscar awards started to be televised in 1953, Price Waterhouse became a familiar name.
There is much written about providing advisory services, with some even suggesting this is a recent “growth” phenomenon, but we can see that Price Waterhouse was certainly performing these services in the early 1930s. I am also pretty sure such services were being performed much earlier by many accounting firms. What I have been seeing recently is that many firms are edging into niches, and while they get involved in everything their niche clients need, they are passing up on novel services for clients outside their niches. I know there are a lot of pros and cons about this, but for practices to grow, they need a stream of new clients and to be able to also provide new services as they are needed. Firms that do not create limits seem to grow better.
We are living in an era of rapid changes and fast-growing needs for added services that accounting firms are well situated to get and qualified to perform. This requires an agility, ability and desire to go after and to use that to spur growth.
Do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your practice management questions or about engagements you might not be able to perform.