FYRE’D UP: Truths from Fyre Festival (Part 1)

Posted on January 31, 2019

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By Cheryl Stern

If you’ve paid any attention to pop culture as of late, you’re already aware that this month brought us not one, but two documentaries about Fyre, the doomed luxury music festival of 2017. The sordid tales behind the planning and execution of the festival-gone-wrong have captivated video-streaming rubberneckers far and wide, whose morbid curiosity keeps them from looking way.

As event professionals, it goes without saying that my colleagues and I succumbed to this recent Fyre fascination. We fell hard and we fell fast. While rehashing our thoughts, the use of all-caps and exclamation points in our IM’s easily hit a new record. But our interest delves so much deeper than the typical onlooker’s. Well-documented stories like Fyre can provide event professionals with valuable and rare insight about what we’re doing right, what we can improve on, and what we should avoid altogether.

In this two-part blog series our team will share a few of our favorite learnings from Fyre as viewed through the lens of four vital event areas: Project Management, Marketing, Production, and Customer Support.

#1: The Value of Solid Project Management

“Hope and platitudes are never a game plan.”
—Mike Murphy, Exec. VP, Production & Concepts

Any well-produced event, large or small, needs an experienced Project Manager at the helm. No amount of passion and optimism can make up for a lack of strong, sensible leadership. A vetted and detailed project plan must then be put in play with adequate lead time, the input and expertise of partners and support staff, and a realistic budget.

What we see from Fyre is that those at the top were entrepreneurs and salesmen that were considered visionaries by their peers but had no event planning experience or concrete knowledge of what was needed for a festival of this size and scope. The event consultant they brought in acknowledged that a festival of this size should begin the design process at least 12 months in advance. Instead, the core team had six to eight weeks to pull everything together.

“The Project Manager needs to know enough about all aspects of the event to ask the right questions, relay accurate information back to key stakeholders, manage vendors, and push back on anything that would cause major planning and execution pitfalls. They need to start with a budget and a timeline, and it is critical that the Project Manager manage both of those key pieces.” —Janelle Benuska, Account Director

Ultimately, the Project Manager must be willing and able to make the tough decisions. In the case of Fyre, when things started to really go south and it was clear that the event could not be salvaged, no one in the position to pull the plug was willing to do so. The blowback they felt from the event cancellation would have been far less brutal had they cut their losses and abandoned ship much sooner.

#2: Marketing (Or, How Social Media Can Make You AND Break You)

“There was genius in the concept [of Fyre]. Exclusivity at any event has a price, and in a lot of cases people are willing to pay it if they know about it, and someone they respect attaches a seal of approval. They were extraordinarily good at painting a picture and getting influencers to endorse it.”
—Mike Murphy, Exec. VP, Production & Concepts

In the event world, it’s common to create a fantastic experience but have a difficult time spreading awareness and getting people in the door. Fyre had the exact opposite problem: they sold 95% of their tickets within 48 hours… well before any logistical plans for the festival truly began. They put a great deal of money and resources into harnessing the power of social media influencers and it was wildly successful. With the launch of a professionally-produced influencer video featuring sand, sun, and supermodels, the buzz about “the world’s most exclusive festival” was deafening.

However, when over-selling ticket packages that don’t actually exist and over-promising a luxury experience that isn’t logistically possible, it’s only a matter of time before the social media that brought you success turns against you.

In the case of Fyre, with thousands of attendees plugged into the social sphere, what happened in the Bahamas didn’t stay in the Bahamas for very long. Angry tweets from concertgoers quickly went viral, including a now-infamous snapshot of an unpalatable cheese sandwich that guests received in place of the professionally-catered meals that were promised.

“In a world where live tweets of cheese sandwiches can go viral, don’t falsely advertise your event. Things may change, but your value proposition and core points of differentiation need to be a priority in your production work.”
—Katie Zupancic Wymer, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing

The clear takeaway: It is absolutely imperative to treat your attendees (not to mention partners, staff and vendors) with dignity and respect, or you will hear about it on social media. As will the rest of the world.

Thanks for following along on Part 1 of our journey through Fyre. Look out for more takeaways in Part 2, coming soon!


When not playing the role of participant in everything from 5Ks to marathons, Cheryl works as the Brand Manager for MuckFest®, helping to deliver a meaningful event experience to others. She is also passionate about documentary film, music festivals, and cheese sandwiches.

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