Home TopicEvents 4 things Fyre Festival taught us about marketing events

4 things Fyre Festival taught us about marketing events

by Nicola Macdonald

Molly Falco, marketing manager at Swoogo reflects on the lessons of the disastrous Fyre Festival and how they might be applied to the world of B2B. 

On 14 January, Hulu unleashed Fyre Fraud on the world, followed just a few days later by Netflix’s FYRE: The greatest party that never happened.

And before we dive in too deep here, let’s just clear the air: the Hulu documentary was better. Sorry Netflix, you’ll always be my number one boo.

If you’re totally unfamiliar with the absolute monster of a clusterf*ck that was the Fyre Festival, allow me to sum it for you. Organisers Ja Rule and Billy McFarland (formerly of Millennial Black Card company Magnises) decided that they would throw a “luxury immersive music experience” to promote their new talent booking app. They gave themselves 0 time for planning and decided to do it on a remote Bahamian island with 0 existing infrastructure.

Despite selling the event out in under 48 hours, when the “luxury” festival “happened,” guests were confronted with damp mattresses in leftover hurricane tents, on a totally different island than the one promised, and were served limp American cheese on untoasted bread before being herded back to the airport, into which they were eventually padlocked. Most festival “staff” and partners went unpaid, and festival goers have yet to see reimbursements (this is why you get festival insurance, people). Sort of your worst case scenario, if you will.

This all went down in 2017, with the documentaries appearing about a year later. And regardless of which film we preferred, it’s safe to say we watched. We all watched. We all had to know how Billy McFarland scammed thousands of rich Millennials into paying (on average) $4k each to see Blink-182.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, Blink-182 rules. That being said, a quick Google search tells me I can see them at “Back to the Beach Fest” for $79 this summer. And honestly, even that seems like a little much.

While my boss would probably want me to mention here that we are super against fraud, scams, and general debauchery, as a business within the event marketing space, I can’t help but feel fascinated by the effectiveness of McFarland and Jerry Media in getting all those 20-somethings to fork over their money.

As such, I took the liberty of breaking down their key event marketing tactics— what mattered and how you can apply it to your b2b event marketing. Plus, one surprising thing that didn’t seem to matter at all.

First up—

1. Location, location, location

While no event marketing tactic is an island, it’s safe to say that throwing your event on an island is a good way to get people jazzed about coming.

In the Fyre Festival’s original promotional video, a whole gang of Instagram models frolic on a white sand beach before jet-skiing out into clear turquoise waters, laughing and dancing the whole way.

Shots of the beach, sunken planes and boats, and models snorkelling are overlaid with the words “On a remote and private island in the Exumas… once owned by Pablo Escobar.”

While it would be nice if we all had room in our corporate event budgets to purchase Bahamian islands, we are not suggesting that event planners immediately head out to find a stretch of sand with pigs on it for their board meeting.

That being said, it is an important reminder that if people are going to invest in coming to your event— if they’re going to fight to convince their boss to invest in your event— it better be somewhere they want to go.

A hotel in Vegas just isn’t going to cut it anymore (Vegas is super over, if you hadn’t heard). That doesn’t mean you have to spend more; just that you have to be willing to think a little further outside the box.

There are literal scads of cost-effective destinations domestically and abroad that hold some kind of allure that can serve to boost interest in your event. Think Lisbon, Puerto Rico, La Push, Louisville, (the other) Portland.

Before you go ahead and decide to have your next conference in Minneapolis because hey, that’s where you’re headquartered, give some consideration to whether attendees will be more willing to pay a premium price to visit the Mall of America or have a waterfront view that they can hashtag #liveauthentic on their Instagram.

And if you’re running a smaller event, or simply don’t have the budget to go outside of your city, small adjustments like brewery vs. hotel conference space, cool new restaurant in an up and coming neighbourhood vs. stuffy old restaurant known for hosting corporate events can make a big difference in whether people actually want to come.

2. Influencers are everything

If you asked the general public what made Fyre promotion so successful, they’d probably give a nod to the 400+ Instagram influencer posts in congruence with the 20 or so most influential models in the world appearing in the promo video.

Traditional marketing tactics kind of suck these days, and, admittedly, the business world is still playing catch up when it comes to influencer marketing.

We’re doing better at finding the right people to contribute to our blog posts or mention they’re coming to our events, but the pay-for-play influencer advertising that’s rampant in the b2c space is just non-existent in the B2B world.

Still, we can apply this tactic to our b2b events— it just means you may need to dig a little deeper, and do a little more explaining up front.

Industry influencers exist, and have massive followings on their social channels, whether that be Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or LinkedIn. The people whose posts we read, whose voices we trust, who are quoted in a trillion industry pub blog posts and articles a week: they’re the ones you want promoting your event.

While these types of industry influencers probably don’t have a set fee-per-post (like Kendall Jenner’s rumoured $250k), you probably can convince them to do a little promotion. First off, don’t be afraid to give away the farm. Literally. Give them VIP tickets to your event. Pay to fly them there. Get them a hotel room. Let them use your product for free for a year. Whatever it is you need to do to get them to attend, that investment is worth it in exchange for their social media posts. Why?

A large, engaged, relevant audience hearing that a) someone they think is cool thinks your event is cool b) they may get a chance to meet that cool person and c) events like yours could contribute to their success is worth more than money can really buy these days. If you want to sell big, you need to invest in influencers.

3. You can’t afford to skimp on your event brand and marketing production quality

In the weeks leading up to the Fyre Festival, all event promotional photos were from the single model-laden shoot in the Bahamas that produced the original video.

This should have caused both a shortage of new and interesting images, as well as some alarm that no progress could be seen in the event’s evolution. However, that shoot and subsequent social posts were so well done that they singlehandedly sustained the event’s promotion for months on end, continuously convincing people to come despite numerous rumours that the festival was going to be a disaster.

Between the extremely high production quality of the shoot and videos, the extremely high production quality of the social media posts, and the extremely high production quality of the event’s branding and look and feel, the festival just exuded luxury, despite the absolute chaos that was happening behind the scenes.

When we’re trying to protect our margins to make it easier to prove events’ ROI and importance in an overall marketing budget, it’s easy to lose sight of the necessity of high quality marketing materials.

Have the intern bang out some tweets. Skip the event website. Put out a video on LinkedIn that looks like it was shot on a flip phone in the dark. Use someone’s random iPhone photography from last year’s event in your marketing emails. Why not, right? It’s cheap. Some of it is free.

Unfortunately when your materials look like they’re low quality, it instantly indicates that your event is going to be low quality. More importantly, it implies that you’re out of touch with how consumers buy things, the importance of social media, the importance of selling an experience or lifestyle beyond “just another industry event.”

It’s crucial to invest in having a high end presence online before your event. Hire a real production team to create an event video for you. Hire a professional photographer to shoot the event for next year’s materials. Hire a real social media specialist to strategise and curate your social presence. Hire a professional designer to create your event logo and website. Hire professional copywriter to craft your emails.

This sounds like a lot of money up front, and it is— but it will instantly make your event stand out, excite your audience, and look like it’s worth spending their money on.

4. Don’t make it all work and no play

How many times have you flown to a place for an event and left the next day thinking, “I wish I could have actually seen Nashville while I was there.”

The Fyre Festival was, at heart, a music festival— but most of the add-on packages and sales were about yoga sessions, jet-skiing tours, and yacht parties with Kendall Jenner.

The organisers knew they could make more money by really using their amazing location to the fullest, including non-music activities that would make the event appeal to a broader audience and feel more like a giant all-inclusive party in the Bahamas than your run-of-the-mill Coachella.

This is arguably even more important when it comes to getting people to your B2B events. While we’d all like to believe our trade show is “fun,” the truth is it needs to include some more traditional fun to make it exciting for people to attend.

Include an after-party at the neighbourhood’s new, hot cocktail bar. Make a double-session into a tour of an interesting part of town. Bring in local food trucks instead of catering, end the day with a musical performance by a local artist. Don’t try and sell your event as a “fun conference,” but instead as a conference with a crap-ton of fun add-ons.

Ultimately, your attendees will be excited to meet and hang out with interesting people in their industry. They’ll be excited to explore a new city. They’ll be excited to do something fun they’ve never tried before.

They probably will not be excited about learning about tax-law at your conference. That’s ok. They need to learn about it. But you need to make sure to include fun outlets that will make your tax-law conference sound like such a good time that it’s worth attending instead of just doing a google search and leaning about it online.

Bonus: how all the above made the actual lineup not matter

For a music festival, Fyre’s setlist was strikingly mediocre. That’s not to say that any of the bands were bad, but that in comparison to Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, or any of your mainstream music festivals, it was noticeably lacking in current, big-name talent.

Even more striking was how little that seemed to matter in ticket sales; in fact, most of the lineup wasn’t even formed when tickets went on sale.

We can’t help but wonder how much bigger the Fyre hype would have been if they had invested in a monster musical lineup. In an event surrounded by that much excitement, it’s hard to imagine it could have been an even bigger draw— but alas, that seems to be the case.

This is all to say, if you learn from what Fyre did right in their marketing and apply it to an actually outstanding event, there’s no telling how big it could get, even in the world of B2B.

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