Written By Alli Polinky
I feel compelled to take a step away from the usual wedding related content this month to comment on the Netflix Fyre documentary. I, like millions of others, recently watched this film in total horror and, honestly WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? I have found it challenging to organize a wedding in 4 months let alone a weekend music festival, yeesh! If you have been living under a rock, learn more about the Festival, (or what could have been) here. In theory, this would have been an incredible long weekend music festival set in the beauty of the Bahamas with luxury accommodations, an A-star lineup and a once in a lifetime experience. Thanks to an online push by social media influencers (mainly models who never intended to show up to the actual festival in the first place), the event sold out in record time in 2016 and, in a series of terrible planning mistakes things quickly spiraled culminating with a massive social media back lash that left organizers in a pile of financial and legal trouble. I had no expectations as I settled in one Sunday evening to watch this mess of a wanna-be festival, but as an event professional this documentary stuck with me and I’ve been having anxious thoughts about it ever since. The more I play some of the scenes over and over in my head, the more I realize very basic fundamentals of event planning were not even considered by organizers. I’ve identified 5 main areas they overlooked:
1. Budgeting. I have never been involved in planning an outdoor music festival but I can imagine the economics of staging something this size and the sky high costs around it would yield some concern and prioritization about budget. I placed this in the number 1 spot because this has to be one of the most overlooked areas of planning for most events (not just Fyre). It seemed like everything from accommodations, travel, staging and food and beverage were miscalculated, going ‘over’ in just about every area with no estimates or quotes to reference. It was shocking that organizers established a tiered ticketing system along with sponsor opportunities and investor asks WITHOUT any firm numbers on hand and WITHOUT calculating any profit/loss summaries and they continued to collect millions from investors as they falsified event information.
2. Determining what’s feasible AND Realistic. This is why it is very important for a client to LISTEN to their advisors and event planners. Cooperation between client and planner is critical to an event’s success and when Fyre organizers were approached with concerns or issues from members of their team, they were immediately dismissed. Don’t get me wrong, I love brainstorming with my clients and dreaming up all the infinite possibilities to make their event really stand out, but after careful research and sourcing, we quickly determine the capacity we can handle and what is feasible based on item #1 (budgeting). I cannot comprehend how organizers drew up various accommodations plans and assumed housing responsibilities for thousands of people on a tiny tropical island and felt it was a realistic plan.
3. Creating an action plan. Paired with budgeting, creating a ‘to do’ list along with designated responsibilities is one of the first things I work on for my full planning clients. A ‘to do’ list accomplishes many things, namely to ensure everyone involved in the event is accountable to their area of planning, to ensure everything is completed on time, to balance the workload amongst a group and to deliver what is promised to all stakeholders. The documentary hears from a variety of vendors as we count down the months and weeks leading up to the festival, and while organizers prioritized their social media ‘image’ and obsessed over the same social media content to embellish the festival offerings, they ignored reality, all seemingly without a master action plan or ‘to do’ list and without corresponding responsibilities of any kind.
4. Sourcing reputable vendors… and PAYING them. The darker side of the story is the exploitation of hundreds of locals who worked without receiving compensation for their efforts. In the hospitality industry, a Request for Proposal (RFP) is an efficient way to encourage reputable vendors to ‘bid’ for your business and this process can start anywhere from 3 - 5 years for a larger event to 6 months depending on event size and scope. The RFP outlines the services contracted and the corresponding estimate with payment due dates. With no prospective vendor shortlist or ‘RFP’ generated for Fyre, the quality of the festival was compromised from the start. Further, organizers waited until 45 days before the festival to confirm the housing requirements, and on boarded as many local workers as possible without crunching the numbers and establishing a budget or timeline to pay them. As an event planner/producer, your job is to take care of your team and ensure everyone receives timely pay.
5. Owning your mistakes. After the disaster unfolded, it took organizers days to respond on social media and even then, the tone was remarkably defensive (Ja Rule calling the event ‘false advertising at best’). I’d argue the lead organizers knew this event was headed for failure all along even though they admitted otherwise, (but I digress). Regardless of the scope of the event, planners are passionate about their client’s success and often feel fully accountable for any problems that arise which is why planners do everything to ensure a smooth and flawless event. At a minimum, everyone should have received a refund in full along with a statement from the company taking full accountability for the way the events unfolded.
Without proper site planning, without budgeting, without consulting and listening to experts and allowing professionals enough time to plan scenario A, B, C, D etc., any event of any scale will fail to satisfy the expectations of guests, sponsors and other stakeholders.
Don’t let YOUR event turn into the Fyre festival! OK, I know that’s a tad over dramatic but you know what I mean! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for all your event planning needs!