Relight My Fyre: 4 Important Lessons the ‘Fyre Festival’ Taught Marketers
So there I was, scrolling through a rolodex of what felt like unending content options on Netflix with a deep sense that my efforts, to find something I had either not seen before or something original, would be futile. However, much to my intrigue a new documentary had landed – Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened – Ok Netflix, I thought, you had my curiosity, now you have my attention.
I should caveat that my exposure to this story had been somewhat limited. I was aware that Ja-Rule, whom I famously danced around my bedroom to as a young adult, was involved somehow and that he was desperately trying to remove himself from any wrongdoing. Beyond that, I knew nothing… and man, was I in for a treat and the expose didn’t disappoint.
“The documentary itself was like watching someone about to get speared tackled in rugby. You want to look away, you want to warn someone, but you’re powerless to do anything… and you watch it over and over again”
In this article, I won’t focus too much on the film because I think it has been well documented. And, between this and the hilarious memes of Andy King (the newly crowned “BJ King” of the internet), the unravelling of the festival and its silver-tongued talisman Billy McFarland has earned its fair share of headlines in recent memory. However, what I want to look at is how we, a group of generally like-minded individuals, can learn from the sh*tshow that was Fyre Festival and avoid the (I think) glaringly obvious mistakes.
1. Under Promise & Over Deliver
I must have been in countless agency meetings where a project lead will repeatedly ask, “is that a realistic deadline?” or “do we foresee any problem with the deliverables?” The biggest problem with Fyre was that they promised a dream, but they delivered wet mattresses and soggy cheese “sandwiches.”
Our Takeout: Make sure that, no matter what, that you’re realistic about what you can deliver. People can cope if you manage their expectations, but if you’re confident you can offer the world (and within a limited time frame), be prepared to come good on your promise. It would have served Billy & Co far better to have delivered on an incremental basis instead of trying to build Rome in a day.
2. Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail
The whole time I was watching Fyre descend into chaos I was yelling at my television – my housemate also got caught in the crossfire – why didn’t they just put on A festival? Setting the lofty goal of replicating a Coachella or a Glastonbury out of the gate was an incredibly ambitious task, but to their credit, they managed to sell out ALL their tickets. That’s insane. I have some experience in the world of festivals and I can say first hand, it ain’t easy. Putting on big events and live experiences is a hard graft and no matter how much you know or try to blag, there’s always a certain element of risk e.g. talent cancellations, the weather, crappy food, accommodation etc. and without a dedicated team of planners, creatives all locked into the same outcome, you’re playing with fire.
Our Takeout: Before you embark on any project, from writing to design or scoping to invoicing, make sure you allow for ample time to figure out the logistics of what you need to deliver. Will you make your deadline? Is it on brief? Will you meet the client’s expectations? Is it on budget? Ask yourself some basic questions before you commence the work and you’ll be able to cruise through the work safe in the knowledge your preparation game was on point.
3. Words Have Weight. Use them Wisely.
I recently attended a conference where Sir Bob Geldof was the keynote speaker. He reinforced the importance of accountability and that we, as a species, need to be more considerate and more concerned with the ways in which we communicate with others. The same could be said for the Fyre festival. By engaging influencers on such a vast scale and using their gravitas to “sell the dream” they did not factor in that some people live and die by what they see on social media. People crave authenticity and, much to the detriment of the influencers involved, they found out that by getting caught up in the hype they put themselves and others in a precarious position.
Our Takeout: Whether it’s the dialogue we use within meetings or the words we use in a radio script, think carefully about how you use language. Be clear in what you’re trying to communicate, there’s no room for blurred lines. If you disagree, as I frequently tell my girlfriend, clearly communicate why you have a different opinion and illustrate why your way of working is more effective. Storytelling, when done right has the power to move mountains (or build incredible brands in our world), but if you’re not prepared to deliver that brand promise to consumers, you’re playing with Fyre.
4. Be Accountable. Be Responsible
One of the other ‘WTF’ moments from the Fyre documentary was the temerity of Billy and Ja Rule once their fantasy began to crumble beneath them and the content from the festival started to go viral. They appeared to have no remorse for the welfare of people before, during and after the event. Even the attitude Billy displays after the event, when he’s being interviewed in his Manhattan penthouse, is one of bravado and narcissism. Billy’s ego and his desire to live the “Instagram Lifestyle” was ultimately was his undoing and his lack of responsibility makes him an abhorrent homo sapien to watch.
Our Takeout: Things in our jobs go wrong. Sometimes, even if you’ve managed to plan the job within an inch of its life, things go awry. The way in which you deal with these problems is also a test of your character and displays to others the type of person you are. When sh*t hits the fan, do you start throwing others under the bus? Even if it’s not your fault, do you work with others to fix the problem and not exacerbate it? The more solutions orientated you can be, the more valuable you can be to those around you. Fyre also raises the important point about true leadership. It’s not about just telling people around to “make it happen.” Leadership is about listening. It’s about collaboration. It’s about empathy. It’s about a common goal. It’s hard.
Much like one of the dog’s farts, Ja Rule and Billy McFarland are probably hoping that the funk of what they sold to consumers is blown away by the winds of change (and any other interesting Instagram scandals that may arise). However, despite their clear breach of trust, not to mention the legal implications of what they did, I feel it important to mention that there were also some valuable lessons for our industry. Let’s not gloss over the fact that the initial storytelling and the portrait painted of the festival was borderline genius, there was an incredibly simple, but compelling visual aesthetic and (most notably) they understood that if they built it “they” would come i.e. people crave a superstar lifestyle and this was their ticket to be part of it. In everything we do as marketers, from account service to web development, we must always consider putting the needs of our consumers first. Without that, we’re just thinking of what we might like and, to quote the immortal words of Mr. Rule, “it’s MUUUURRRRDDDAAAA”