Event management crisis control – how to extinguish the FYRE

By Alice Hancock- Beyond Events

‘FYRE: The Greatest Party that Never Happened’ has become cult viewing on Netflix since its launch mid-January. The documentary takes us through the now-imprisoned US billionaire, Billy McFarland’s attempts to put on an ‘immersive music festival…transformative weekends…on the boundaries of the impossible’ on a paradise island with paying guests mingling with top models.

Unfortunately, the only promise that came true was ‘impossible’. To anyone involved in organising events, the documentary is a tragic glossary of ‘what not to do’ when facing potential event pitfalls. The mistakes have such momentous consequences that my toes were curled and my stomach knotted for the full feature length.

Billy’s dream is to create the most talked-about, sensational, celebrity-endorsed music festival that has ever taken place on a private paradise island in the Bahamas. His vision, however, overrides common sense and events is one place where a good reality check is surely more important than ambition?

He starts his journey misleading his investment backers and his guests with promises grander than he can keep. (He promises a private island which is later cancelled and replaced by a small plot of land next to a Sandals resort. Tickets promise cuisine by world-renowned chefs, guests receive sandwiches in plastic cartons). Despite contracting a fully experienced and professional team, Billy has no use for anything other than positive feedback and loyalty to press forward on Plan A, but as we know only too well in the events industry, an event with no Plan B is no event at all. When a rainstorm hits with 24 hours to go, where is the Plan B now?

Billy chooses to gloss over the ‘unglamorous’ in favour of the glamorous. The world’s top models are brought on board (literally, to luxury yachts and jet skis) to promote the event on social media but the unglamorous items – the provision of toilets, the landing of planes, the lack of running water – are all overlooked. The project manager for travel logistics was sacked for saying there wasn’t room to land enough planes. In terms of running water, Andy, the team’s Head Event Manager takes the hit on that, but don’t let me spoil the fun – watch to get the full picture.

Guests arrive to find their luxury villa accommodation is actually a collection of hurricane tents with soaking wet mattresses from the storm. No ‘rooms’ have been allocated, instead guests rush like a herd of buffalo to grab what they can literally get their hands on.

The most painful part of the documentary is the fact that a local workforce has been contracted to help put on the event. Promised healthy wages they work long gruelling event hours that we have all come to know and love, in a team effort to pull off a show-stopping event. Instead, they are left with thousands of dissatisfied customers, a dilapidated site ravaged by the rainstorm, a dishevelled team (some of whom fled the site) and no pay. One local cries as she tells the story of losing her life savings to the event.

So how do we extinguish the FYRE, or better, prevent it?

FYRE prevention

  • Risk assessment – think through all the possible negative outcomes and the level of risk for each. And remember, one tiny mistake can have HUGE consequences.
  • Be realistic – don’t bite off more than you can chew. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than vice versa.
  • Be honest – with your team, with your suppliers, with your host and with yourself. Don’t compromise anyone’s integrity and don’t jeopardise anyone else’s position.
  • If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Have a Plan B. For everything.

FYRE extinguishing

Once the event is up and running, it’s all about keeping a cool head.

-Stay calm – step away, breathe, think. Give yourself a minute to get over the shock of the crisis because you need your logical thinking brain over your ‘fight & flight’ sensation in order to solve the problem.

-It’s not the issue itself – it’s how you handle it that will be remembered.

-Do and be the best you can – in the circumstances. Plan B will no doubt not be perfect, maybe not even good. But it will be an alternative to downright disaster.

-Communicate – to your team and to the host. Take charge, come up with a solution that everyone is on board with and communicate this to the powers that be.

-When you leave work tonight go and grab a bag of popcorn. For all the toe curling and stomach knotting, I can’t recommend ‘FYRE’ highly enough, firstly for your event training, secondly for a great night in of entertainment.

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