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7 Lessons And Reminders Found In The Ashes Of The Fyre Festival Flop

I recently watched the Netflix-produced documentary called Fyre – The Greatest Party That Never Happened (there’s a similar documentary on Hulu entitled Fyre Fraud) about the ill-fated “luxury music festival” targeted at status-hungry, affluent Millennials that quickly devolved from a can’t-miss / have-to-be-there happening to a colossal disaster. Ultimately, investors, celebrities and concert-goers were duped and eight class-action lawsuits have been filed (to date).

In a nutshell, the festival was conceived and “organized” by entrepreneur-turned-huckster Billy MacFarland and rapper Ja Rule to help promote the Fyre music-booking app. It was scheduled to be held in two waves over a nine-day period in the spring of 2017 in The Bahamas. Promoted by high-profile models and other social-media influencers, the event experienced major problems related to weather, transportation, accommodations, food, security, onsite medical staff, running water, toilet facilities, long lines and headliner artist cancellations.

Instead of “luxury villas” and “gourmet meals” festival-goers paid thousands for, they were housed in dome-like FEMA tents and served pre-packaged, cold sandwiches in Styrofoam containers. Instead of acts the caliber of Blink-182, they briefly got a rag-tag local band. The festival ended before it ever began and MacFarland was extended a six-year stay courtesy of the U.S. Federal Prison System and a forfeiture of $26 million.

In the ash and rubble of Fyre lie many, many lessons, large and small.

Aside from the chief organizer’s audacity, outright lying and the stunning corruption that permeated the event, there are several other thoughts that came to mind as I watched the documentary and I’d like to share them with you.

Keep It Real When It Comes to Feasibility, Time and Budget

Always root your expectations in reality, even when it disappoints. Every undertaking includes elements of feasibility, time and budget. There’s an old saying: Good, fast, cheap. Pick any two of the three. You can get something good and fast but it won’t be cheap. You can get something good and cheap but it won’t be fast. And you can get something fast and cheap and you can bet the end-product will suck.

Trust Your Gut, Allow your Experience and Knowledge to Guide You

There are times when an outrageously wonderful idea emerges, the planning team gets excited and scatters to quickly turn the vision into reality … only to discover various barriers and roadblocks to success. Like the old adage: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If your gut says something ain’t right, don’t do it. Lean on your immensely valuable knowledge and experience – no matter how sexy the initial idea seemed.

Explore the “Next Best Thing” as an Option

Say you do have the greatest brainstorm ever but you discover it’s not do-able. Don’t automatically toss it on the trash heap, take a second look and see if “the next best thing” is an option. There are always alternatives and options, don’t overlook them. When you shoot for the stars, you may not reach them but you’ll assuredly end up with something else that’s, well, outta this world.

Heed Warning Signs Along the Way

If you decide to take the proverbial leap and “go for it”, keep your eyes wide open, very wide open. Look for any possible red flags, early warning signs, things that aren’t adding up, etc. Better to pull the plug midstream and course-correct than power through and discover your worst fears were realized. Remember the movie The Perfect Storm? I rest my case.

Just Say “Yes” … or Just Say “No”

As meeting and event professionals – whether you’re on the client side or vendor side — we live for the adrenaline rush of pulling something off that the Average Joe simply couldn’t. By nature, we’re inclined to be Can Do! and Yes, We Can! type people. Reality is, saying “No” is often just as distasteful as hearing it. But there’s a time to say “Yes” and a time to say “No”. The contract between an event professional and the client is more than ink on paper, it’s a trusted partnership. Any event pro worthy of the business feels deeply invested in his or her client’s successful outcome. And the wise client understands, you’re not just off-loading a long and laborious to-do list, detailed budget, and onsite execution, you’re paying for the wisdom and insight that event planner has earned over many years.

A  Lot of People Simply Don’t Understand the Cost of Things

“Sticker shock” is a day-to-day challenge for all involved in corporate meetings and events. We’ve written previously how a single gallon of coffee can end up costing $125 at a hotel or other event facility which, at first blush, seems understandably outrageous. But when you look past the basic cost of coffee grounds, filter and water, there’s the electricity, table, linens, set-up staff, accompanying accoutrements like cups, saucers, take-out cups, cup collars, lids, spoons, napkins, half & half cream, milk, low-fat milk, processed sugar, native sugar, artificial sweetener, stir sticks, various and sundry vessels to hold the items and, of course, the shiny pot itself. The same dynamic holds true for rigging, onsite labor, audio-visual gear, lighting, etc. There’s always more going on than meets the eye (or seems evident as a line-item in a budget). Whenever possible, educate yourself when it comes to event-related costs. It will always help you better manage expectations.

Choose Partners Wisely

Surround yourself with the best professionals your budget can afford. There is simply no substitute for exceptionalism. Tossing your organization’s upcoming event to an already overloaded staff member will not yield the level of success, imagination and professionalism that can be delivered by those who live in the details of event planning on a daily and nightly basis and fully understand the art and science involved in pulling off a great event.

Bottom line: Events are serious undertakings with myriad landmines to avoid and obstacles to overcome. They’re more than just planning, budgeting and execution, they involve creativity, ingenuity and the ability to right the wrong on-the-fly without a single attendee ever knowing.

Remember, when your guests depart, you want them to be fired up … not Fyred up.


Surround yourself with the best meeting and event professionals your budget can afford. There is simply no substitute for exceptionalism.