Fyre Festival, which had been marketed as the high luxe Bahamas version of Coachella, ended this weekend in something akin to a dystopian 18 to 30 holiday. Revellers, who had forked out up to $12,500 for the privilege, were trapped in the airport or on the unbuilt site, many without adequate water or food.
The premise of the opulent festival, co-founded by rapper Ja Rule, was to leverage the buying power of 400 social 'influencers' with mass followings on Instagram and Twitter, using them to share promotional videos and photos as well as posts stating they would be attending. Within the first 48 hours of the social-media blitz, Fyre claimed posts had reached '300 million social impressions'. The difference between generating buzz and actually building an entire luxury festival site, are markedly different.
As it became clear the festival site would never be ready in time, the influencers and performers were warned to stay away while punters found themselves stranded. By any standards, this was a crisis. Crisis communications need to be swift, to the point and reassuring. The response to events can save or destroy reputations and entire businesses.
Luckily, wordsmith Ja Rule was on hand to share (via social media of course) his calming words: "I wanted this to be an amazing event IT WAS NOT A SCAM [...] I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT... but I'm taking responsibility".
Demonstrating exactly what not to do in a crisis, he tried to dodge (then accept) blame, appeared deeply emotional through the use of capitals and, using the classic pink elephant technique, drew people's attention to the idea that this may have been a scam.
Certainly, his response did nothing to calm the media storm around the event, and he has already been served with, among others, a $100 million class action lawsuit.
The best crisis communications plans are difficult to analyse because readers are barely aware of them, but a bad example certainly shows how important taking the right tone can be when communicating with the media.
There wasn’t enough water. People were fainting in the airport. Luggage was lost. And a photo of a vacant concierge cabana, which was really just a few two-by-fours with a cheap roof, became a meme across social media. People were stranded on the island. Ja Rule, a co-founder of the event, took to social media to announce that this wasn’t his fault (he literally capitalized “NOT MY FAULT” for emphasis), even though it really was his fault.