Five Lessons Event Professionals Took Away from the Fyre Festival Nightmare

Fyre Festival, last year’s disastrous millennial music fest meltdown, resulted in attendees stranded on an island, millions of dollars in vendor invoices unpaid, an ever-mounting pile of lawsuits filed, and countless hilarious memes. The entire internet has been reliving the train wreck for the past few weeks after the release of two in-depth documentaries presented by Netflix and Hulu on this monumental fiasco.

These documentaries are difficult to watch for anyone, but they’re especially painful for event professionals. You could call the Fyre Festival docs the Opus team’s personal horror films. We checked in with a few of our veteran event planners for thoughts on the festival that never was, and to talk about what the event would look like if it had been up to Opus.

Stay True to Attendee Experience

In a world where event marketing is prevalent and popular, consumers expect operational excellence. Today, flawless execution is table stakes, which is why Fyre attendees arrived expecting logistical perfection. When event elements change, attendee expectations need to be reset through detailed communication. Unfortunately, the Fyre team never informed customers that they would be receiving an entirely different experience than they were promised (we could see the resulting Twitter firestorm coming from a mile away).

Inform Logistics with Strategy

The Fyre team began their project with beautiful creative and a bold idea, but at the end of the day, the logistics didn’t deliver. Event strategy and creative should inform event operations, and vice versa. An innovative, creative idea must have the organization and plans to back it up. Conversely, a solid logistical plan must have strategy behind it to offer an exciting and impactful attendee experience. An effective event cannot exist without all of these elements present and advising each other. Unfortunately for everyone involved in the Fyre Festival, logistics were a complete afterthought, which resulted in catastrophic conditions onsite.

Leverage Sponsorship

Where were the sponsors during this planning process? Festival and meeting planners regularly use sponsorship to offset event costs. Fyre could have taken advantage of sponsorship activations to help cover costs while simultaneously improving attendee experience. We’re thinking SoulCycle classes on the beach, luxury cars as VIP shuttles around the property, private beachside bonfires hosted by brands. The planning team for Fyre (in addition to a million other obvious mistakes) missed an opportunity to create a multi-dimensional and sensory experience that also drove revenue.

Always Vet Vendors

An event team is only as strong as its vendors and partners. The Fyre planning team sourced vendors that weren’t prepared or experienced enough to successfully plan this event. Marc Weinstein, an interviewee in the Netflix documentary, mentions that his experience is mainly in music festival consultancy and funding, rather than logistical planning. Samuel Krost, the event professional tasked with booking the musical acts for the festival admits that he had no prior experience in booking talent. Additionally, the Fyre team convinced their partners to stoop to their level during the planning process. They pressured their community management partner to delete Instagram comments featuring inquiries about the festival. In our world, every vendor needs to be heavily vetted. It’s imperative that event vendors are not only trustworthy, but they share your company’s values and commitment to ethical operation.

Prioritize Safety

Not only did the Fyre event management team come nowhere close to perfect execution, they actively put people in danger. When attendees arrived, they were greeted with limited food and water, inadequate shelter, and no easy way to get home. Event managers need an emergency response plan in place—the Fyre festival team didn’t even have a contingency plan for inclement weather… on an island… in the Caribbean. As event professionals, we understand the urge to do whatever it takes to complete the task at hand and keep your clients happy, but attendee health and safety always come first.

Fyre Festival is one of the most extreme (and most public) examples of a failed event—we hope every vendor, professional, and partner of the Fyre Festival learned something from the unfortunate situation. The Opus team members who watched one or both of the docs had to look away during certain parts; it was a great reminder of what not to do as an event professional.

Photo courtesy of Jack Strang via AP

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