Billy McFarland may not be human. Rising like a felonious phoenix from the ashes of 2017's Fyre Festival and after 2.5 years in jail for fraud—he’s not letting failure or prison slow him down. He’s already announced Fyre Festival 2, claims to have sold 100 tickets at $500 each and brags that Fyre Festival “has been the most talked about festival in the world” since 2016.
Fyre Festival has indeed been in the headlines for many years, but not for the reasons McFarland implies. The original Fyre Festival promised a Bahamas vacation with top musical performers…but despite celebrity endorsements, the event turned out to be an inauspicious dud in a glorified parking lot.
But McFarland doesn’t seem to care about the truth. In an interview with a CBS affiliate, he showed the reporter ticket receipts totaling $45,000—so assuming that he’s telling the truth about the new ticket sales, he’s taken the old adage, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” to a brazen new level, akin to Elizabeth Holmes taking a C-suite position at a big pharma firm.
The lesson for those who help leaders grow brands and spread influence is that persistence wins. In a global economy with an overwhelming amount of information coming at us, someone like McFarland can still get people to buy his claims and his tickets.
Here’s how to apply this lesson when reaching target audiences.
Overcome message saturation by building relationships
Sales managers joke with their teams that they don’t care how an employee did last quarter—they want to know, “what have you done for me lately?” With our collective attention being monetized by every device we look at, every gas station pump where we are standing, and every billboard we drive by, people are overwhelmed.
And overwhelmed people can forget that McFarland is a criminal.
That’s why it’s important to build and maintain real relationships using relevant marketing and branding tools. Surveys and consumer data platforms can give granular information that informs media placements, influencer endorsements, and other parts of your marketing and branding strategy. This can create more value for current customers, investors, and other stakeholders; and attract valuable prospects who might otherwise choose your competition. E-mail open rates, website visits, time on websites, and sales data show when influence is working.
This is also why there is no such thing as a slow season for marketing and branding. Slow seasons are when target audiences need to remember you, because you’re not top of mind when they use their wallets. It takes years to build a brand…but only a few months to become a lost memory because the competition consistently puts itself in front of your customers.
If you aren’t speaking with stakeholders, somebody else is. And without having real relationships, great brands won’t be able to distinguish themselves from the McFarlands of the world.
Remember that embarrassment is so 20th century
The world’s collective memory span has dwindled to the point where even the political class openly admits that the trick to surviving a scandal is to never apologize and push through the fallout until the next news cycle. In a digital world where everyone’s embarrassments are brought to the forefront, no one has the capacity or time to be embarrassed.
This means that you can’t hoist a drink celebrating the competition’s demise—you must bury the competition’s embarrassment beneath your good news and quality products and service. Otherwise, someone like McFarland can claim to be back in the game— and get that media exposure with CBS that could have gone to something or someone providing real value to the world.
PR is powerful…but easily forgotten
For all of the pride the marketing and branding industry has in what we do, short attention spans and saturation mean that we can’t sit on our laurels. McFarland has gotten a lot of bad PR, including with his recent ticket announcements…but people continue to be distracted and overwhelmed by media. It’s our job to show clients how to brand themselves, and then get their reputation rocket off the ground, through the atmosphere, and into outer space—where their message can readily disseminate at scale across the global marketplace.
Dustin Siggins is founder of the media relations firm Proven Media Solutions and a business writer with bylines at USA TODAY, Insider, and Forbes.
RJ Caster is the Chief Executive Officer of Techne Media, a company that specializes in strategic media buying for corporate, advocacy, and political clients across the United States.