PwC Briefcase Takes a Starring Role in Pre-Oscars Tour

The global professional services firm takes serious measures to ensure the secrecy of the Oscar winners before the envelopes arrive on stage.

PwC briefcase

If you’re unfamiliar with “Briefy” the briefcase, just watch the 89th Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 26.

There, you may catch a glimpse of the shiny black briefcase that this week toured Dallas-Fort Worth and other cities around the nation. For the past four years, Briefy and its twin have carried the 24 secret envelopes containing the names of Oscar winners as tabulated by the global professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Without those envelopes, we wouldn’t hear that famous phrase, “And, the Oscar goes to …”

Carrying the briefcases will be PwC partners Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz who are co-leaders of PwC’s Oscar balloting team. In the 84 years that PwC has counted the Oscar votes, Cullinan was the 13th partner given the responsibility for the winners, and Ruiz was the 14th.

A briefcase-toting PwC executive is a longstanding tradition at the Academy Awards.

“Eighty three years ago, we carried envelopes in some kind of briefcase.”
Brian Cullinan

“Eighty-three years ago, we carried envelopes in some kind of briefcase,” Cullinan said in a phone interview. “This is the fourth year for these particular briefcases.”

During its two-day tour of DFW, the briefcase — yes, it’s actually named “Briefy” — made television appearances, and visited such places at The Star in Frisco where it posed with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders; Klyde Warren Park in Dallas; the PwC Dallas office; the Grassy Knoll at Dealey Plaza, and the Dallas Mavericks locker room for a photo with the team’s NBA championship trophy. On Tuesday, it made a late-afternoon visit to the Dallas Innovates office.

Cullinan picked out the briefcases himself because he thought the cases were in “need of a refresh and a change.”

He said he had a clear idea of what he wanted in a briefcase at the time, and visited shops on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and others in New York City before deciding on the current cases.

He found a company to make metal PwC and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences logos for the outside of the cases, and “we customized the inside to make sure there was enough room for the envelopes.”

On Oscars night, Cullinan and Ruiz take separate vehicles on separate routes to the auditorium just in case there is an accident or a delay.

“Martha carries an identical briefcase with all 24 envelopes,” Cullinan said.

“We double everything,” he said.

“It’s a live show and you can’t anticipate a car accident or something,” he said. The two PwC partners are the only people who know the results ahead of the ceremony.

“It’s a live show and you can’t anticipate a car accident or something.”
Brian Cullinan

The pair and their briefcases even become a part of the show.

Cullinan and Ruiz even walk the red carpet carrying the briefcases, and have been stopped for television interviews along the way.

Throughout the years, PwC has had to adapt and innovate its ballot-tallying and security procedures.

“We have taken good, innovative steps,” Cullinan said.

This is the fourth year that Academy members have been able to vote electronically, “which allows them to vote from wherever they are,” Cullinan said. Members still can vote on paper ballots, if they so desire.

“We’ve had to keep up with the technology on the switchover from paper,” he said.

While the business of Academy Awards secrecy and accounting is serious business, “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to do,” Cullinan said.


PwC partners Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan walk the Oscars red carpet carrying their briefcases loaded with envelopes bearing the names of Oscar winners. [Photo Courtesy PwC]


Actress Cate Blanchett plays around with PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Brian Cullinan as she arrives at the 86th Academy Awards. Blanchett won the lead actress Oscar later that night for her role in director Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” [Photo Courtesy PwC]

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