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Crash and Burn Brand Experience: What We Learned From Fyre Festival

Brand influence, brand endorsement and celebrity seeding (a.k.a., celebrity product placement) have been marketing/PR tactics for agencies and companies for many decades. For years, we have all seen celebrity endorsements on television, movies, magazines and perhaps on the radio. With the evolution of social media, celebrities and brand marketers have discovered new avenues with video and photos to increase visibility with instant results and engagement. 

At Frankly Communications, we have been involved with several well-known product placement projects while engaging with celebrity endorsers. After reading the backlash Fyre Festival had with their brand influence campaign, I wasn’t surprised of the outcome.

Here are a few things to consider when promoting a product, service and/or event with an online influencer and/or celebrity endorser:  ​

Product Acknowledgement If you’re representing a brand, it’s a pretty big deal to have a celebrity endorser to help with the promotions. But what's even a bigger deal is that the endorser completely understands the mission, product and/or event. Do they know the product and know why they were chosen to represent the brand? From the start, open communication is key to a successful campaign— for both parties involved. Provide information and ideas on how they can help with promotions. Be easily accessible for any questions and be sure to monitor their communication so they’re staying on-brand.

For brand endorsers, agreeing to promote a product/event that hasn’t been launched or executed in the past can be tricky to promote—like Fyre Festival. For these instances, it’s imperative everyone is prepped with everything you need to know about the product/event, communication tips, facts and stats, expectations, and lastly, a signed terms and conditions statement for full brand support should things go awry. This is a no-brainer, but at least the brand has overly and confidently communicated about their expectations in addition to providing information should the event go south, and the endorser is prepared to back the brand no matter what the situation.

Accountability As soon as attendees got fired up at Fyre, things went ablaze online and the celebrity endorsers went into hiding.  Some were suddenly silent or others just completely distanced themselves, to a point of deleting their Tweets (shame on you Kendall Jenner and shame on your agent for not telling you this).

First, never-ever-ever delete a Tweet. Someone, somewhere saw your Tweet before it disappeared. Nothing is a secret online and the delete button is not a scapegoat. Secondly, should brand endorsers like DJ and musician Corbin Key, athlete Mike Thomas and Kendall Jenner be allowed to avoid crisis situations or should they own up and take some responsibility? 

It’s an equal partnership when a brand and endorser have agreed to promote a product and/or event. As a brand identity professional, it’s not only important for me to know what I’m talking about, it’s mandatory. The same should apply for brand endorsers. If the brand endorser doesn’t receive the proper information to help tell the story online, then ask! Don’t go silent and don’t delete a Tweet. If Fyre PR reps didn’t communicate next steps and sample messaging, they not only failed their client, but also endorsers, the fans and public. For endorsers, be committed to the project, especially if you’re a paid representative. Ask questions beforehand and know exactly what you’re getting into before signing the dotted line. And by the way, you’re not getting paid to fabricate the truth. Celebrity endorsements are not always about money, receiving free goods, but about supporting something you’re fully committed to representing. If you feel otherwise, perhaps celebrity endorsements are not the type of gigs for to get involved with. 

Social Responsibility In the case of an online crisis like Fyre Festival, the endorser, brand and PR/marketing firm(s) involved are all responsible to communicate to their specific audiences. As far as communicating online, there are old rules of thumb for crisis management, and I’m confident in saying these rules were null and void for those involved with Fyre, and when they did involved, it was too late. Social media is instantaneous with a million+ eyeballs reading its content. If you’re leading the PR efforts and social media for a brand campaign, have people on the ground who are prepared for all types of communication, including real-time crisis management. And in any event, a crisis communication plan must be outlined beforehand, especially for inaugural events or product launches.

Below are the basic rules of thumb for crisis management—a list Fyre Festival can adopt: 

Be Transparent. Nothing is secret. The Fyre Starters (endorsers) could’ve owned up that they were paid or received gifts in return for their endorsements rather than deleting Tweets and running away. Honesty is best and there's a reason the FTC has guidelines (and should be applied to social media).  Acknowledgement. If you’re on the ground, you understand what people are going through—say something. Make immediate acknowledgement that you are aware and assessing the situation—saying something is better than saying nothing. Don't respond one day later with a generic message. If you do, it's a great way to lose credibility.  Apologize. Just say you’re sorry, don’t make excuses and don’t throw other people under the bus so quickly. Someone should probably let Ja Rule know to never apologize with a BUT...  Action. Now that you’ve owned up to the situation, it’s time to act and deliver. Fyre offered this year’s guests VIP tickets and will receive a full refund.


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