We Didn’t Start the Fyre: Key Learnings from the Failed Fyre Festival

February 4, 2019

Lori Esposito

Lori Esposito is the CMO of MeetingPlay, a mobile event app provider that develops intuitive, engaging and information-rich solutions infused with innovative technology, providing experiences that everyone will be talking about.

What happens when your event’s security is lacking, the gourmet food doesn’t arrive, your lodging accommodations turn into a health hazard and the entertainment bails? Sounds like a disaster, right? This is exactly how the Fyre Festival of 2017 will be remembered: a total disaster.

If you have yet to see, both Netflix and Hulu are streaming documentaries about the Fyre Festival. Check out the Netflix trailer here. In short, inexperienced “planners” (Billy McFarland, rapper Ja Rule and others) attempted to throw a luxury music festival. Attendees were promised a plush experience in the Bahamas including glamorous yacht parties with supermodels, orgasmic food and sensational musical performances.

They started seriously planning about eight weeks out. Unsurprisingly, everything fell apart and the people in charge didn’t cancel the event until it was too late. After paying thousands of dollars for admission, attendees’ starry visions morphed into a waking nightmare. Worse, the failings of this particular event boils down to more than just poor planning. The organizers have been labeled as con artists and liars who defrauded ticket buyers and are now the subject of several lawsuits.

Despite the many horrors of this event, there are key learnings from the Fyre Festival that we can use to better our own event planning, and more broadly, use as reminders for some important life lessons as well.

8 Event Planning Essentials

1. Know your audience

Before you flesh out any event elements, you must understand what your guests want and what they expect. As you move through the planning, pin down the specifics as to how exactly you will meet or exceed their expectations. The planners behind the Fyre festival were smart marketers in the months before — they created a slick video and social influencer campaigns. The problem: much of the promotional materials were misleading. Knowing your audience means understanding their expectations.

2. Start small and grow

Create a budget, plan within your means and keep track as you go. The Fyre organizers didn’t have the money to keep their promises, and that’s when things really turned south.

3. Expect to throw an incredible event; plan to lose money

In the festival world, the average time it takes to start turning a profit is 10 years (or 10 festivals). When it comes to planning, think long term in addition to short term.

4. Choose a realistic and appropriate venue

Make sure your venue has the infrastructure to accommodate the amount of people and the type of experience you want to provide.

5. Set appropriate expectations

Only advertise what is set in stone. Promoting a vision that has not yet come to fruition could get sticky, fast. Attractions, sessions and features that are booked and complete paint an accurate picture.

6. Know when you are in over your head

One of the most memorable quotes in the documentary: “Desperate people do desperate things.” Acting out of desperation does not serve you or your event. Rely on the support of professionals: production crews, marketing experts, etc., who are operating out of experience.

Work with a tech provider to choose the appropriate technology for your event. This could easily become an oversight. Don’t let that happen! As shown in the documentary, in lieu of cash, Fyre planned to use preloaded RFID bands. A poor WiFi connection boshed the entire idea. Planners and attendees were left with no practical alternative.

7. Exclusivity: people eat it up

Brainstorm and plan exclusive activities or giveaways. VIP offerings are one thing. What else can you do? Perhaps you can partner with your keynote speaker to offer a special meet and greet? Possibilities are endless. Take the time to plan and execute these offers as they garner attendance and create a buzz both before and after the event.

8. Power of Influencers

Regardless of the poor outcome, the planners for Fyre knew that the social media glitterati would drive ticket sales and they were right. While working with big name celebrities like Kendall Jenner may not be realistic for your event, this is a good reminder that partnering with your keynote speakers, presenters and special guests to promote the event could go a long way. After you’ve built a strong rapport with your collaborators, don’t hesitate to broach the topic.

5 Bigger Picture Reminders

1. Focus your problem-solving

Fyre planners attempted to resolve how to pull the event off as they envisioned it. As it turns out, this was the wrong problem to solve. For example, how to reset expectations to customers would have been a better channel for their problem solving efforts. When you seem to be hitting a wall, take a step back and ask yourself and your team if you’re examining the right problem.

2. The power of saying no

Are you familiar with Franklin Covey’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution? A key quote from the book is, “Focus on the wildly important...exceptional execution starts with narrowing the focus — clearly identifying what must be done, or nothing else you achieve really matters much.” Learn to say “no” to anything that is standing in the way of the wildly important. When we say “yes” to everything, we aren’t able to truly accomplish anything.

3. Full transparency

Not only is it the right thing to do but it is critical when it comes to pleasing and meeting the expectations of your attendees. Though extreme, the Fyre Festival is a powerful example of how making empty promises, not communicating changing circumstances and in this case, being deceitful can get ugly, fast.

4. Know when to climb on board

How do you know when to jump on board with a collaborator’s vision versus when they are leading you down the wrong path? There is no denying that Billy McFarland had an exciting and enticing vision but without the means to make the vision a reality, it became a dark path to follow. The key here is to keep track of all of the moving pieces. Ask questions and don’t settle for anything less than clear and organized record keeping of the answers. Every aspect of the event should be folded into a to-do list with specifics.

5. Know when to say goodbye

A great idea can feel close to your heart. You spend time and effort nurturing it, and you want to see it flourish. For as hard as it is to accept, sometimes, it’s not meant to be. If you find yourself spinning your wheels without getting anywhere, it’s time to take a closer look at the situation. How do you know when you’re just spinning and not moving? Chances are that you started off feeling motivated, inspired and energized about your work. If your efforts feel more and more like a struggle and you can’t seem to find your energy or enthusiasm anywhere, it may be time to let go. On the upside, doing so often opens you up for the next chapter, project or event that is a better fit for your efforts and goals.


The Fyre Festival documentaries are strong examples of how to sink your own ship. Use this round-up as a guide on how to avoid similar traps and create a successful and memorable event. And, if you are a planner who is interested in watching, we’re partial to the Netflix program; it focuses a bit more on the event itself rather than the character stories. Don’t forget the popcorn and maybe some antacids. Because this was one of the most stressful disasters to watch unfold!

For as frightening as it was, we can't stop talking about it - you too? Drop us a line if you want to chat about it!

NOTE: If you are interested in helping any of the Bahamian locals who lost money from the festival, check out the following GoFundMe links:

https://www.gofundme.com/exuma-point-fyre-fest-debt

https://www.gofundme.com/the-exuma-foundation-for-victims-of-fyre-festival

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