The Fyre Festival Documentaries Got Us Thinking About the Agency-Client Relationship

Photo Credit: John Klos,

We recently contributed an article to the industry publication Little Black Book titled, What The Fyre Festival Documentaries Can Teach Us About Human Behavior and Marketing. In the piece we took a step back to look outside of the fraudulent practices to examine how their marketing machine created so much buzz about the event before their house of cards came crashing down. Writing the article also got us thinking about the agency-client relationship and how transparency and trust are such integral parts of the relationship.

If you haven’t seen the documentaries, the Netflix one titled “Fyre” focuses on and follows many of the people involved in creating and promoting the festival, including the agency that helped run the social media campaign. There is still controversy surrounding how much the agency really knew about what was really going on and that controversy is complicated by the fact that they also were producers of the documentary. But what is clear is that agency got caught up in the hype that they were helping to create. While they must have known how unorganized everything was and saw a bunch of red flags, they probably didn’t know the levels to which the festival was going to be a disaster or else they never would have gotten on a plane to go down to the Bahamas (as shown in the film).

As an agency, there are several things that may hint there is something amiss on the client side. Slow (or lack of) responses, incomplete information, very prescriptive requests without additional explanation, and vague answers indicate that there may be a misalignment. On the client side, if you’re agency isn’t asking the right questions that may be a sign that there isn’t a lot of thought or strategy going into the work.

how we faced a situation with a client whose product wasn’t going to live up to expectations

While we never have been involved in working with a client that had as big of a fiasco as the Fyre Festival, we can share a story of when we’ve been involved with a product launch that didn’t live up to the hype. We were approached by a startup in the IoT space that got some early traction with a product they created. They got a ton of PR in major outlets, made the rounds at all the big trade shows and startup conferences, were featured on TV shows, and had investors. We met with them and heard about their vision, the interest they had from other established brands looking to partner with them and license their technology, and heard about their financial model that appeared viable. We worked together to develop a campaign and strategy to help a wide launch of the product, which was to be timed with another major media appearance. There was excitement and energy around it, and they were really enthusiastic about the work we were doing for them. But along the way, we started to see some of the cracks. The partners started to disagree on calls, the date for the launch kept getting pushed little by little until we were several months out from the original launch date, and perhaps most telling, the responses to inquiries from customers and potential customers started to get slower or were just left unanswered by those at the company in charge of customer service. Once we saw that the product was still being sold, but customers were not being responded to, we knew their ability to deliver on their brand promise was no longer there. Ultimately, the product never fully launched due to challenges with manufacturing and funding challenges. In hindsight, they weren’t ready for an agency and we could gotten to that understanding sooner with better and more transparent communication.

The strongest agency-client relationships are the ones that both sides feel like they’re in it together. Sharing information, understand the internal challenges and dynamics a client may be facing, and collaborating about how to tackle challenges together lead to the best partnerships. An agency has to have their line in the sand of when they shouldn’t be working with a client for reasons that may be moral (like the Fyre Festival situation) or simply what is in the best interest for both parties. Like with many issues, it all comes back to communication. And the most successful agency-client relationships are built on great communication.