Lasting PR Lessons From a Musical Festival that Never Even Took Place
by Aubrey Quinn
by Aubrey Quinn
Hulu and Netflix released competing documentaries this past week on the ill-fated 2017 Fyre Festival, creating the perfect weekend binge-watch scenario. Much more interesting than how the two streaming giants ended up delivering essentially the exact same documentary within 48 hours of each other, however, is the story of Fyre Festival itself — and all of its implications for the public relations industry.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Fyre Festival was a music festival originally conceived as a marketing stunt for the Fyre Media app. Promotional concerts aren’t a new idea, and many brands engage with consumers through existing music events like Coachella, SXSW and Bonnaroo. But Fyre ambitiously set out to create its own uber-luxurious music festival on a secluded island in the Bahamas. Partnering with marketing agencies and social media firms to help create the festival’s brand, Fyre created gorgeous promotional materials and paid for some of the world’s most recognizable models and social influencers — Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski and Hailey Baldwin, among others — to create an online buzz unprecedented for a music concert in its first year. The event sold out in days, with hundreds of concert-goers paying thousands and thousands of dollars for what they believed would be a high-end musical experience replete with Victoria’s Secret models.
The whole thing was a fraud, masterminded by Billy McFarland who is now serving six years in federal prison. (Side note: His business partner in the whole venture was Ja Rule and I would have loved the documentaries to tell us more about the fallout he experienced.) The actual event collapsed without a single musical act performing, leaving guests trapped on a Bahamian island with no food and no water and fighting like Lord of the Flies characters for FEMA tents and toilet paper. And most importantly, it uncovered important ethical questions around the way brands use social influencers.
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