Ailys Toledo|May 4, 2017

The failed Fyre Music Festival, co-founded by rapper Ja Rule, Billy McFarland and Fyre Media, has been making headlines for weeks. The overhyped, underwhelming and chaotic event that unfolded the weekend of April 28 in the Islands of the Exumas infuriated the masses, and rightly so.

Attendees were promised a luxury music festival complete with upscale accommodations, gourmet dining and dynamic musical performances. Attendees paid approximately $2,000 for a ticket to this musical paradise experience.

Instead what they got was a dangerous, poorly planned, nightmare of a vacation. So, what went wrong?

The premise of the festival was clearly defined. Ja Rule oversaw talent booking, using his influence to enlist top-tier celebrities like Kendall Jenner to join the movement and spread the word. Culinary offerings to suit every palate would be offered. Visuals of clear waters, sunny skies and beautiful people attending the festival saturated social media.

But expectations did not become reality. According to an open letter posted on the Fyre Festival website, logistical roadblocks began halting production and behind-the-scene operations. The infrastructure had to be built from the ground up; ambulances for medical safety had to be shipped in; charters and transportation had to be arranged. The small island was not equipped to handle a festival of this caliber.

And the Fyre team had a million justifications as to why they were not ready. This should have been the moment to call it off. But they kept mum about the troubles they were facing and the event carried on.

Chaos ensued as guests made their way to the island. Flights were delayed as the local airport was underdeveloped, buses were overly packed causing long waits. The gourmet caterer dropped out last minute so measly food preparations were made to compensate. Unexpected weather issues knocked down the tents where guests were supposed to sleep.

The festival team could not handle the magnitude of the event before, and they were certainly unprepared to handle the aftermath. As guests realized this was not the experience they were promised, they took to social media to share images, complaints and concerns for their safety.

In a matter of minutes, news of the festival fail went viral. Headlining acts like Blink-182 dropped out and issued an apology on their Instagram. In case you’re wondering, Kendall Jenner dropped out too, but not before removing all traces of her participation in the festival on her social media.

The Bahamian Ministry of Tourism issued a statement. Recognizing how deeply this would affect their tourism industry, which is a huge economic driver, they were quick to clarify that they were not sponsors of the event. The Fyre Festival failed to connect with these officials beforehand and burned a bridge as a result. Chances of redemption are highly unlikely.

As a PR professional, absorbing the calamity one headline at a time, I couldn’t help but wonder how this event got so out of control and why the crisis management was virtually nonexistent. How would I have handled the situation if I was on the PR team behind this event? How would you if you were faced with the same dilemma?

Let’s face it – we do not live in a perfect world where we can foresee problems before they happen. We do, however, live in a world where a crisis can either make or break an image, and establishing a strategic plan before and after an event can make all the difference.

Below are a few tips to keep in mind for event-related PR initiatives and what to do if things go wrong.

1. Plan Accordingly

Have a crisis plan from the get go. Every major event, especially with thousands traveling to attend, needs a Plan A, B and C to anticipate everything that can go wrong, from weather to terrorism, sickness and even death.

A communications response for each scenario should be drafted well in advance. Enlist communication partners who are prepared to handle the good and the bad. These partners can devise and implement a plan should something go wrong.

2. Don’t Oversell

When marketing your event, it’s tempting to use buzzwords like “epic” and “luxury” when describing a passion point or features, but these must be avoided if they don’t ring total truth.

Don’t boast about something you can’t deliver because the public will hold you to it. Even when pitching media, be mindful of exaggerated promotion. In addition to not overselling the public and our customers, don’t have your influential partners do the same, which brings me to my next tip.

3. Don’t Freak Out

If things don’t go according to plan, don’t lose your cool. As advised in most refrigerated products, “Keep cool, never freeze.”

This is where your crisis plan comes in, which should include having the right, experienced spokesperson to calmly communicate your agreed upon messages. Be coordinated in who will deliver the message.

4. Media Relations Skills

In the event of a crisis, having a relationship with media/influencers should be leveraged wisely. Know when to use the media to deliver valuable information, especially when it comes to public safety.

It’s better to cancel rather than risk injury or death. Remember the band Phish and their Conventry concert crisis? The band used radio waves to issue a safety warning about the weather and beg fans not to put themselves at risk by attending. Sure, many fans ignored the warning and still went, but at least the message was clear.

The fastest way to burn a bridge is to miscommunicate information through media, which puts them in a bad position. Factor in which media would be appropriate to communicate the right messages.

5. Be Empathetic

Don’t be like the Fyre Festival and send impersonalized, automatic email responses to inquiries.

Don’t be like the Fyre Festival and block comments on social media to navigate the negativity.

Don’t be like Ja Rule and post an insincere note on your Instagram claiming it was not your fault.

When the time is right, issue an open letter to the public with an explanation, an apology and a promise you can make good on. In some cases, a reimbursement might be enough. In others, it might take more accountability depending on the gravity of the situation.

Be prepared to take full responsibility and follow through.

6. Get The Right Counsel

The fact is that if your communications team has never dealt with a crisis before, you need to call in the reserves. Our in-house crisis expert, Bruce Rubin, has helped clients navigate through tricky situations. Need a consultation? Give us a call at 305-448-7450.


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