Instagram vs. Reality: Five Event-Planning Lessons to Learn From the Failed Fyre Festival

By Betty Ann Graham, February 4, 2019

Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland can be branded many ways. Pathological liar, con artist and opportunist may come to mind for anyone who watched the dueling Hulu and Netflix documentaries. But, he is truly a marketing genius—albeit one unable to successfully execute his grand ideas.

While the festival—just like McFarland—was a fraud, its legend is a product of an incredibly well-thought-out and perfectly executed marketing strategy. Had Fyre lived up to its hype, the event, in theory, should have been the next big thing.

The festival was canceled after hundreds of attendees arrived to Great Exuma, Bahamas, and found flimsy tents in place of luxury villas and prepackaged sandwiches instead of the gourmet meals they paid thousands of dollars for through their admission ticket.

The Fyre team knew how to dream big, but lacked attention to detail in planning and preparation. That fatal combination ultimately set Fyre up for failure and made for compelling documentaries. Here are five ways to ensure your event doesn’t have the same pitfalls as Fyre.

1. Don’t dream an impossible dream.

An event on a secluded island in another country seems luxurious and mysterious, but is also incredibly hard to get both people and supplies (including clean water, toilets and housing!) to and from said island. Aiming to be memorable is commendable, but you can do it within realistic means.

2. Don’t overpromise.

Having exceptional salesmen and an A-plus marketing team is great, until their efforts are pushing for an experience that is all-together different than what the reality is on-site. If your website is selling $250,000 packages for luxury villas and backstage access to A-list celebrity talent, the event must deliver. Creating fake opportunities with real price tags only puts you in one position: jail.

3. Don’t pretend money grows on trees.

The majority of Fyre’s failings come back to ignoring facts about funding. That’s called fraud, and ultimately the reason McFarland was sentenced to six years in jail. Budgeting allows you to create a realistic spending plan for your money, as long as you stick to the plan. McFarland ignored his financial books while pressing forward and, well, you saw what happened.

4. Don’t be ambiguous.

If there is any notion that an event is not going to happen as planned, clients must be alerted and the event may need to be canceled or postponed. Doing damage control once the guests arrive will lead to chaos, bad press and possibly a disaster. Work proactively to notify attendees if an expectation they were promised will not be met. It is simple: tell the truth.

5. Don’t ignore the dangers of social media.

Going viral has both positive and negative implications. Social media is full of opinions, whether someone is posting about how great the event will be or how terribly it has all gone wrong. Just as Fyre’s hype was built through a social media campaign—involving supermodels and other paid influencers—its fate was cemented on Twitter by simply a photo of a cheese sandwich.

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