In case you missed it, social media has been ablaze about Fyre festival, a would-be destination music fest marketed to the luxury set. Co-founded by rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland, the two-weekend festival offered a “departure from the familiar,” which in this case meant ticket packages that ranged from $450 to $250,000 (that’s not a typo). For this, attendees were promised beachfront villas, yachts, catered brunches, complimentary chartered flights from Miami, and anything else that would presumably end up on a model’s Instagram account.
When ticket holders actually started arriving, however, they were confronted with mass disorganization, confusion, and “Hunger Games-like conditions.” The subsequent unraveling of the festival was then gleefully followed by millions of people on social media platforms around the world.
Fun to read? Sure. But there are also some lessons that all business owners can learn from Fyre Festival.
The festival’s glitzy marketing campaign featured models like Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, and it promised a sort of Burning Man by the sea adventure, with meals catered by Steven Starr. Even if the music sucked (with Blink-182 as a headliner, this festival was never really about the music), it offered a chance to “to let loose and unplug with the like-minded” on the private Bahamian island of Exuma (once owned by Pablo Escobar, as the breathless marketing ads proclaimed).
It may not be to your taste, but there’s nothing wrong with this kind of marketing. I’d actually argue that this was the one thing the festival did well. Too well, in fact, as organizers were incapable of delivering on these promises. Worse yet, the island lacked the necessary infrastructure to handle the demand created by the marketing campaign.
“The conditions were basically the exact opposite of our expectations,” attendee Elise Darma told CBC News. Instead of a private island and luxury accommodations, she explained, they were forced to compete with other guests for rain-soaked, disaster relief tents. “When you stepped on the carpet inside, you’d have a puddle of water around your foot,” she said.
You may not be planning a luxury music festival in the Bahamas, but there is still a valuable branding lesson here. Before applying to a job, the majority of job seekers will research a company, and your website is the first place they’ll go.
“Inconsistency between your employer brand and the reality of working in your company is a huge problem,” says Sonya Matheson, Workopolis’ employer branding and recruitment services manager. “You need to back up the promises your website or career page make. If not, you’ll create a poor candidate (and employee) experience, which can really affect your reputation. Remember, interested job seekers can also be customers and competitors, so this extends past recruiting.”
Know your limitations (and be open to feedback)
According to Chloe Gordon, who briefly worked for the festival as a talent producer, planning staff suggested postponing the event and rolling back tickets to 2018. Fyre Festival executives, however, had a different idea, with one reportedly saying, “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”
While this bro-tastic audaciousness is admirable (you can argue that starting your own business requires a certain level of daring and courage), in this case the bravado needed to be sedated and restrained. Case in point: the Bahamas ministry of tourism offered to help the festival with logistics and planning, and was instead assured that all was under control.
“But clearly they did not have the capacity to execute an event of this scale,” the ministry told the Guardian. It has since been throwing shade on Twitter, saying it was disappointed that “hundreds of visitors to Exuma were met with total disorganization and chaos.”
Let this be a reminder: you don’t know everything, and newsflash, you can’t do everything either. Accepting this is not a sign of weakness. It is, in fact, the foundation for business growth.
“Knowing your organizational strengths and weakness is essential to recruiting, especially when you’re hiring for growth,” says Marsha Forde, Workopolis’ director of human resources. “As part of that process, it’s important to seek out ideas and feedback from associates, clients, and most importantly, staff.”
Take responsibility when things go badly
To Ja Rule’s credit (something I never thought I’d type), when it was clear Fyre Festival would be more Lord of the Flies than Coachella, he was quick to accept responsibility, even if his initial statement (typed on iPhone notes) tried to deflect blame: “I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT… but I’m taking responsibility. I’m deeply sorry to everyone who was inconvenienced by this.”
— Ja Rule (@Ruleyork) April 28, 2017
The festival’s Twitter account also issued the following apology: “We’re heartbroken that we let down all the guests who put their faith in us. To our guests and staff — thank you again for your all patience as we navigate our next steps. We owe you an apology.”
Organizers have since worked to get guests home, and sent out applications for refunds. They will still be sued into oblivion, but there is something to be said for the way they took responsibility for their mistakes. This, after all, is the hallmark of a good leader, and the reason why US presidents of the past lived by the motto “the buck stops here.”
Don’t give up (even when it looks like you should)
In the wake of this debacle, co-founder Billy McFarland told Rolling Stone that despite the festival being “the toughest day” of his life, things would be better next time.
“We were a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves. Next year, we will definitely start earlier,” he said.
Most people would be deterred by endangering thousands of lives and then turning into a social media punching bag, but evidently, it has not dented Fyre Festival’s bravura. If the festival does live to see another sun-streaked Instagram photo shoot, it will be remarkable, sure, but it might just be further proof of the wisdom of Sir Winston Churchill, who said, “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
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