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Fyre Festival 2017 or how to stop your event from going up in flames

Fyre Festival 2017 or how to stop your event from going up in flames

The Fyre Festival debacle is not really about celebrating the descent of #richkidsofinstagram into a real-life ‘Lord of The Flies’ scenario.  Neither is it about Instagram celebrities and their stealth ads (although the pending lawsuit is a must-watch).

It was ultimately an event management disaster.

The media feeding frenzy has coughed up the Fyre Festival pitch deck leaked to Vanity Fair. While its rampant use of the fire imagery is groan-inducing, it is the unfortunately-named Fyre Squad that I found most interesting.

Not a single person in the the Fyre Squad festival team has had event management experience! There was a Chief Executive Officer, Chief Creative Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Revenue Officer (really?) and Chief Technology Officer.

One person had “events” in her bio – a Nyla Coffie, Director of Experiential Marketing. But her LinkedIn profile showed sporadic and limited event management experience. We’re talking about eight months here and seven months there.

So how do you ensure that your event does not go up in flames? First, hire a professional event manager. Next, ensure that he/she has these five skills:

1) Time management. This is the most important skill to have as an event manager has to juggle a few things at any one time. This goes beyond scheduling to planning resources and logistics efficiently so that everything goes smoothly on the big day. For an event, the size of Fyre, planning needs to start one year out with artist bookings and site recce.

Serious logistical planning for the Fyre Festival didn’t even begin until late February or early March — less than two months before thousands of people were meant to congregate on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma.

One disgruntled ex-employee described the Fyre Festival grounds two months before the event: “festival vendors weren’t in place, no stage had been rented, transportation had not been arranged. Frankly, we were standing on an empty gravel pit…”

2) Adaptability. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong with an event so it’s important to be able to think under pressure. This can be as basic as having a Plan B for when your speaker missed the connecting flight. Or you may need to respond to unplanned external events on your event date such as the snap election in the UK or a bomb explosion at the hotel across the street (I’m not making these up!).

3) Budgeting. Even though the Fyre Festival sold out within weeks of its December announcement, Wall Street Journal (subscribers-only) reported that it had missed a number of payment deadlines to artists.

Apparently, the organisers blew it on models, planes and yachts. Music festivals are moneymakers in the music industry. But like any other event, there are a dozen factors that affect profitability, such as atmosphere and line-up, and will determine event spend.

Having an event manager with an eye on the budget means that money is allocated to areas that will improve the event experience and costs are trimmed on the frills which can be very pretty but distracting.

One supplier to the Fyre Festival was quoted on Vice: “There was no infrastructure to even support the equipment. They didn’t even have a loading dock, they had no understanding of what vehicles were on the island to even move the stuff off the ship once it got there.”

4) People skills. Being an event manager means dealing with different stakeholders from the sponsors to vendors to participants and senior management. An event manager would need to ensure that everyone’s needs are met without compromising the event’s standards.

It gets trickier if the event is held in another location – the more exotic the locale, the trickier the logistics and the more essential negotiation skills become.

Bahama’s customs department shut down the Fyre Festival site after the organiser did not pay customs duty taxes but any travelling event manager will have their fair share of war stories of missing shipment, greedy customs officials or damaged goods in transit.

5) Strategic thinking. Your event manager should be able to extricate himself/herself from the minutiae of printing the right spelling of surnames to having a vision as to where the event can be three, five or ten years from now.

The organiser of the wildly successful Met Gala for the past eight years acknowledges that the Gala isn’t just about “fashion or business or art. It’s about all of it.” This affects not just seating arrangements but also how to elevate the Met Museum’s information booth “into something incredible every year”.

Likewise your event is not just an industry conference or a  startup pitch, it has to serve a higher purpose to continue to attract and grow sponsors, speakers and attendees ten years down the road.

P.S. In addition to client events, we run bootcamps for marketers that serve as a useful resource for the industry. The topics, format and delivery is a constant work-in-progress and we welcome ideas, as always!

Credits: Shout-out to the amazingly calm event managers I’ve worked and who have contributed to this post: Vicki Greenwood , Anne McGlynn, Ong Hui Loong and our very own, Merin Ho. Thank you!

Tags: B2B Marketing, B2C Marketing, Events, Sponsorship, Vendors

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