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Event PR (gone wrong): Learnings from Fyre Festival

It was supposed to be one of the world’s most exclusive and luxurious boutique music events, with rapper Jah Rule at the helm. The reality was some dry white bread with a slice of reformed cheese and aneamic-looking salad shoved in a polystyrene carton, chaos, cancellations, and punters stranded on a private island.
OK, so on the face of it being trapped in paradise doesn’t sound that bad. Certainly it’s far better than some other places you could be stuck. Nevertheless, Fyre Festival, which sold full price tickets ranging from $6,000 to $12,000, will go down in history as a disaster of epic proportions, and a nightmare for whoever was working the event PR.
[Tweet “#EventPR lessons from Fyre Festival debacle via @SmokingGunPR”]

Here’s what happened:

The inaugural edition of Fyre was due to begin last week in the Bahamas, offering a completely bespoke experience- several days of tropical sun, big headline acts, privately chartered flights inbound from Miami to start the party early, high end food and top shelf booze.
Sadly, things didn’t quite go to plan. The punters that did arrive found a festival site in utter chaos, with luxury tents not ready, non-existent facilities, a disorganised entrance system (if you can even call it that), no music, and other sights that some have described as akin to ‘a refugee camp’.
Others were still in Florida waiting for planes that authorities cancelled for public safety reasons once word got out about conditions on the island. In many ways, though, they were the lucky ones, back in ‘paradise’ night fell with little-to-no information given on how or if things would be sorted, with people left waiting for their luggage to arrive. Talk about a misadventure.

The plot thickens

Unsurprisingly given all that, organisers cancelled the event, making an apologetic announcement on Twitter and other social media, later admitting they had been ‘naive’ in their approach to such an undertaking.
In many ways that would be more forgivable than the news that hit next. Soon, stories were circulating about celebrities that had been advocating buying tickets in return for freebies and backhanders from the festival. So basically payment for public announcement services rendered. Oh dear, oh dear.
[Tweet “How not to do #influencermarketing – Fyre Festival @SmokingGunPR”]

What can we take from this?

Well, several things, really.
First up, once again the idea of influencers has been called into question in a big way. How can the public really place its trust in what celebrities and experts say if they are fully aware of how many individuals- from YouTube stars to models- are willing to take a reward for promoting something they may not actually believe in?
The result being brands need to be fully transparent about all relationships with those in the public eye, and exactly what the details of those relationships are. More so, brands need to be aware that simply having high exposure support in what seems like the right places isn’t tantamount to success.
Ultimately it comes down to product, or indeed service, and the ability to deliver on associated promises. Festivals are only one example whereby there’s frequent negative feedback from the public about conditions, facilities, and misrepresentation.
Often this can be dismissed as subjectivity- just because you didn’t consider the yurt luxury doesn’t mean others wouldn’t. But in the case of something like Fyre, and Bloc 2012- a London event that cancelled on its opening night thanks to similar, albeit far less shocking disorganisation and poor-planning- ultimately the situations got so bad that you can only ever put blame at the door of those who chose to ignore huge warning signs about the potential for catastrophe.
Put simply, then, be realistic about what you’re aiming for and take into consideration the limitations of budget, team, and capacity to execute, or risk falling very foul; in Fyre’s story that now means legal action, including a new law suit that has just been filed as a result of the ‘questionable’ influencer advertising.

Looking for more advice on PR, social media, and marketing? Why not get in contact or submit a brief to inject a little ingeniousness into your brand.

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