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Crisis comms – Fyre festival

If you haven’t seen it already, the last few weeks have seen an outpouring of schadenfreude across social media and the press aimed at Fyre Festival. We thought we’d have a little fun analysing it all.

Here’s a quick recap: It was billed as a luxury festival on a glamorous tropical island, organised by Ja Rule and Billy McFarland, a serial tech ‘entrepreneur’, with acts including Blink -182, Skepta, Major Lazer and more. Five-star tents on the beach, high-end catering, and concierge services arranging mini-adventures. Promoted by models, hyped by influencers, attracting the 1% crowd from across the world…but planned by the clueless.

The festival was a disaster. Bands weren’t paid and all pulled out before the event started. The luxury tents looked suspiciously like disaster relief shelter. The catering was basically cheese slices and dry bread. The beach was a gravel lot. Flights were cancelled at the last second. Festival goers who had made it to the island found themselves being robbed and then fobbed off by organisers. They took to social media pleading for help, only to be met with the collective power of Twitter’s derision.

It’s been beautifully described as “Rich Kids of Instagram meets the Hunger Games.”

So how do you deal with the fall out, when the world is piling on?

Not like the Fyre Festival organisers did.

Ja Rule took to Twitter to make what was supposed to be a heartfelt apology. But when your statement includes the words “it was not a scam” and “this is not my fault” – it quickly loses any real impact and becomes clear you’re trying to weasel out of things.

Here’s a list of things wrong with the statement:

  • Only the first line is really about the people involved, the rest is virtually all about him
  • “I will make a statement soon” – is a strange thing to say when you’re making a statement. It’s a clear attempt to deflect attention elsewhere
  • “It was not a scam” – usually a good indicator that it absolutely 100% was a scam. See also, “I am not a crook”
  • “I don’t know how everything went so left” – there’s something to be said for getting a statement out quickly, but what’s the point if you’re in the dark on what happened. This is another obvious attempt to direct attention elsewhere
  • “I truly apologise as this is not my fault” – firstly, why and how can you apologise if it’s not your fault. Second, how much contempt (naïve or otherwise) do you have for people to think that they’ll accept that? Third, saying “this is not my fault” is another petty attempt to dodge culpability but it’s painfully transparent and has the opposite effect
  • “I’m taking responsibility” – doesn’t come across as genuine given the rest of the statement and its placement
  • “I’m deeply sorry to everyone who was inconvenienced by this” – as unlikeable as the attendees were, it’s an understatement to say they were ‘inconvenienced’ given conditions were similar to Lord of the Flies
  • The grammar is atrocious

A far better statement would have focused on what’s going on for the ticket holders – lead with something positive like the apology and refund element, and then explain what’s happening currently.

It’s also important that expectations need to be set, both with the public and within the company. PR is not a silver bullet or a magic wand. It can help to manage a situation but the problems here are systemic – that’s why this statement is hollow.

The other statement on the Fyre Festival website (now deleted) isn’t much better, truth be told. You can read it in full here.

  • Despite having the advantage of more time to write it, it’s still deeply self-centered. It opens with an explanation of who the organisers are and what the aim was… who cares?! It has no place in this statement apart from satisfying the ego of the organisers
  • In a misguided attempt to show the scale of the ambition of the event, the organisers inadvertently instead highlight how little preparation was put into it and how much they underestimated the work needed
  • It’s not until the fifth paragraph that you see anything close to an apology, or even concern for the festival goers
  • Having just listed a number of things which went wrong, in the sixth paragraph the organisers say, “we didn’t think security could keep up, so we had to postpone the festival”. A brazen lie. Security was an issue, but catering, accommodation, the fact zero bands had shown up – the festival was a disaster all round, so blaming security concerns is a bit of a joke
  • The seventh paragraph is about how everyone in the industry was sympathetic to the company. This paragraph appears *before* any apology to the guests
  • The refund is good news, but it’s a shame it arrives in the eighth paragraph
  • In fact, it’s the ninth paragraph which has the apology, and there is one in the tenth (and final) paragraph as well, but does an apology which is 567 words into a 672 word statement really sound in any way genuine? And that apology is made worse because it again uses weasel words – “We apologise for any inconvenience” – sorry, which part of the event was even 10% of what was promised?

But this shouldn’t surprise anyone given the shambolic event. It’s only natural that the comms would be every bit as bad as the main event itself.

Tags: crisis comms