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5 LESSONS TO LEARN FROM THE FYRE FESTIVAL

We’re all just calming down after BIRDBOX was everywhere and now Netflix have served up another buzz creator with FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and unsurprisingly it has got people talking. (There is also a HULU documentary called Fyre Fraud)

I watched it last night and as soon as I saw the super models on the yacht, I remembered Bella Hadid’s apology over the disaster that ensued. I didn’t know the full story though…

Without going into it blow by blow, Billy McFarland was a well connected ‘entrepreneur’ who partnered with musician Ja Rule with the aims of creating an insane, next level festival, the like of which had never been seen, to promote the launch of their Fyre Media bookings agency. They ‘bought’ an island. Apparently once belonging to Pablo Escobar. Before the logistics of a festival of any scale, let alone thousands of people on an island with no infrastructure, was discussed, the promo started.

1. The first, generic, pitfall here is the act of running straight for the ‘fun stuff’ without putting the graft in. Why is this a pitfall? Because you have no foundations, any campaign produced can’t possibly be grounded in reality when there is no reality to ground it. Billy McFarland gave the impression of living a lifestyle that could only be aspired to, so this promo was going to be the epitome of that. It was Instagram come to life.

The promo in question here (watch above)? More of a party than a promotional shoot by all accounts. A bevvy of the hottest super models of the moment cavorting on yachts, sunning on the beach and drinking cocktails. Bella Hadid, Elsa Hosk, Hailey Beiber, Alessandro Ambrosio, Emily Ratajkowski and more. A flashy promo designed to play into the worst pitfalls of social media: FOMO and the millennial drive to be seen in the right places with the right people. The messaging; ‘Do you want to hang out, drinking cocktails with the hottest women on the planet? Well, buy a ticket for Fyre and your dreams will come true.’

2. The power and lack of accountability of influencers. If you pay Kendall Jenner $250,000 she will share an instagram post about your festival whether she knows that you are able to pull it off or not. By throwing money at the ‘influencer’ marketing, Fyre immediately establishing presence and an assumed credibility that came along with that. How were any of the influencers to know that Billy McFarland had form for fraudulent activity and that the Fyre Festival wasn’t ever going to materialise any where near the form that it was being promoted in?

Are we asking influencer’s agents to do due diligence? Can we ask them to be held to account or is that unfair? Where does the buck stop beyond Billy McFarland? A key part of an ongoing conversation that I want to revisit is that none of these influencers disclosed that they were being paid to promote the festival. Misleading?

I could only find a grainy image as, unsurprisingly, the original content was removed from Jenner’s account.

I could only find a grainy image as, unsurprisingly, the original content was removed from Jenner’s account.

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3. A business that doesn’t retain the core of its purpose is bound to fail. When the need for money becomes the overridding driver for a business, you are on a slippery slope. For Billy, he was determined to carry through at any cost. Or was he determined to keep the illusion going as long as possible? He had long lost sight of any concern for the customer experience but then again, did he have that concern in the first place? With his team around him raising concerns, it was a bullish approach to continuing to raise funds whilst also not paying those he was working with.

It is an extreme example, but the point is worth making, that once you lose the importance that should be placed on your customers and their user experience, you have lost the essence of your business and judgement will be clouded from here on.

The amazing thing about situations like this is the people in the bubble and around the ‘mastermind’; how they continue on and maintain attempts to 'make it all work’ and find some solution amongst the chaos.

4. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. In any aspect of business or even with the people you’re working with; if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Gut instinct is a wonderful thing. Having said that though, hindsight is also a wonderful thing and when you don’t trust one is it easy for the other to come into play.

The sheer scale of deception in the case of McFarland and the Fyre Festival is staggering. The disparity between the promises and reality are almost unbelievable which in itself creates an insurmountable obstacle.

5. Under promise and over deliver. Again, this is the extremity on the scale of over promising and under delivering, but a point to take from this is that over promising sets you up to fail from the get go. Promising, and charging for, seafront villa accommodation on a private island but delivering disaster tents lined up on a sand covered building site is definitely under delivering. Selling tickets on the basis of a 5* dining experience and delivering cheese sandwiches in a takeaway box is serving up two polar opposites. A private flight, on a custom VIP Boeing 737 from Miami didn’t materialise and then festival goers were left to fight over luggage thrown from a shipping container in the dead of night. The list goes on in a similarly catastrophic way, but if you, in your business, can pitch within your means and then exceed a client’s expectations, the feedback is only ever going to be positive.


For all the negatives about the Fyre Festival, and there are A LOT, it is a case study that shows potently the often scary power of the ‘influencer’. Sure, this can be a power for good with the possibility to raise awareness for all manner of good causes or societal problems, however, it can be an overwhelming force when it comes to the negative. Promoting ‘skinny teas’ and waist trainers or weight loss pills feed that notion of the perfect celebrity and the imperfect average Jo or Joanne. The fact that a troop of ‘Fyre Starters’ handpicked for promoting the Fyre Festival could sell so many tickets and create a buzz for a previously unknown entity and a far from fully formed festival concept is scary.

Influencers talk and the public listen. Influencers walk and the public follow.

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If you want to read more, here are a few great articles:

https://www.vulture.com/2017/05/fyre-festival-fiasco-the-complete-timeline.html

https://www.businessinsider.com/founder-of-fyre-billy-mcfarland-club-for-millennials-2017-4?r=US&IR=T

https://www.businessinsider.com/fyre-festival-expectations-vs-reality-2017-4?r=US&IR=T

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/fyre-festival-pitch-deck

Fiona Minett