Liar Liar, Pants on Fyre

Did you watch the documentaries on The Fyre Festival? Hulu and Netflix both have a version of this story. I watched both. If there were 6 versions I would have seen them all. I can’t get enough. I watched the first one twice. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me try to explain…

A young, upstart entrepreneur from NYC decides to partner with Ja Rule to host a music festival on an uninhabited island in the Bahamas (once owned by Pablo Escobar) in 6 months.

Why does he think he can do it? Because he’s been hosting “parties” for a few months in penthouses all over the city. Ja Rule performs at one of those fun parties and decides, “yeah, ok, I’ll partner with you on a multi-million dollar event”.

What happens next is a mash-up of ego, lack of experience, lack of leadership and lack of morality. It’s a hot mess.

Billy McFarland, the young entrepreneur that I mentioned earlier is either a smart dude who let things go out of hand, or a sociopath who let his ego lead every decision he made. Maybe a bit of both.

The documentary tells a month-by-month, day-by-day story of everything leading up to the non-festival. Here’s what they did first. They created a slick, well-produced teaser. They filled it with top models. They went to the island where they wanted to have the festival, stayed on private yachts (not on the island) and partied for a few days while they filmed the promo. Turquoise seas, beautiful women, expensive boats, it had it all. The promo was incredibly well produced. I think you can still watch it somewhere on YouTube. The company they hired to do the teaser gave them an incredible digital and social presence. Their website was super slick and their marketing was off the hook. Really high-end and modern.

They spent the next few months designing an experience. Luxury tents. Luxury villas. Beautiful packages that made you feel like you were going to a music festival in some private piece of heaven. And it had a price tag to match. Each package was thousands of dollars. And they all still sold out, in record time.  Through their social campaign (which was genius), they sold every package they had. All the tents. All the villas. Sold.

Just one problem. There were no luxury villas or tents. All the images were created. Nothing was real.

Turns out the island they originally wanted couldn’t be used. The owner of the island had only one deal-breaker in the contract – don’t mention Escobar – so what did they do? They mentioned it in the first teaser. Game over.

Luckily Great Exuma was near-by. This island, under other circumstances, was a much better place to host a festival. It had infrastructure, hotels, restaurants, etc.

Sadly, by the time they decided to go there – everything was sold out. The only thing they were able to get was some undeveloped real estate on one side of the island by the water. They grabbed it.

The details of what went down are so crazy. Instead of luxury tents – they put up hurricane tents left over from the last season.  There weren’t enough homes on the island to get for private villas, so those who signed-up and paid for one got a tent too. And they didn’t even have enough crappy tents. 380 for 900+ people attending.

Not enough food. Not enough bathrooms. No plan B for rain. The attendees were f**ked. The musicians who agreed to perform weren’t any better. There was barely a stage – let alone multiple stages for a festival. Most of the acts started dropping out. Still, the producers let the event go on.

In the end, it was a nightmare. You can google how much of a nightmare it was.

I can’t tell you how validating it was to see those documentaries. I watched the first one with my husband. The entire time he kept turning to me and going, “ohh babe, can you believe it?”. Even he knew. He knew because he’s been married to an event planner for 20 plus years.

I couldn’t believe it. But I could believe it. It was totally believable. Let’s be honest. People think they can do it. On the surface it’s a job that literally everyone thinks they can do. Oh you planned your sister’s shower? Sure! You can be a planner! You organized the office pot-luck lunch? Sure, you can plan a 1,000 person event. Go for it.

I would re-title those documentaries as, “So You Think You’re An Event Planner?” or “You Are Not A F**king Event Planner”.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. I know. You’re a teacher (love teachers), or a nurse (love nurses), or whatever. You are impacting the world. You’re maybe literally saving lives. But here’s what I know for sure. I know that in this world of big picture thinking, one thing is lost. Execution. No one likes to say they execute. Everyone wants to be a “strategist”. Big thinking. Not big doing.

Ok, sure, you had a really great idea. A world-changing idea. Awesome. Good for you. Can you actually execute it? Can you plan the steps it’ll take to get it done and make it happen? Can you think 10 steps ahead to all the problems that might pop up and solve them before they happen? Can you manage the emotional toll it’ll take on people to get them to do what you want them to do for your idea to come to life?  And can you do it without complaining and whining? Better yet, can you work for never-ending hours and days while pretending to be happy and smiling the whole time? Can you be a 20 year professional that’s managing million dollar budgets while still being asked to get someone a tampon in the middle of an event – and do it without question? If the answer is no. Please, for god’s sake, go back to your day job. If the answer is yes, welcome. You are welcome here. In the group of people who immediately start figuring out how to get something done.

When I saw those documentaries I was so moved. In the last few years, a value has been placed on people who can weave a good story in 280 characters. People who can produce slick, marketing ads and pieces that last about a minute or two. They are digital geniuses. They can make an idea viral. Get a million impressions. Which is great. But guess what they can’t do? They can’t execute. They can’t figure out the one million things that need to go down before something happens.

Billy McFarland had no planners working for him. He had digital teams and marketing teams. He had supermodels and rappers. He even had someone called a “producer”. But no planners. To give credit where it’s due – he did have some people with festival experience that he ignored. But those people basically went along with a plan they knew would fail.

One of the things that is the most troublesome about the documentary isn’t the attendees, ok fine, they didn’t get a music festival. Uptown problems. They had to go back to Miami with their miniature dogs and flower halos. Boo hoo. To me, the saddest part was that the island residents were dragged into making this nightmare happen. Hundreds of workers signed up to help Billy and his crew. No one got paid.

So maybe calling Billy an entrepreneur is wrong. He’s a cheat. A fraud. A con man. And I know that’s what this story is really about. But what I got from it was so different. His story validated and brought to life everything I know to be true. You can be a big idea guy or gal. You can be good at tweets and posts and ‘grams. You can get a thousand likes, and a million impressions, but can you bring that vision to life in the real world? A world full of bad weather, cancelled flights, broken technology, and unhappy people? Can you handle it? Maybe. But let’s be honest, probably not.

 

 

 

So you wanna be a corporate planner?

I’ve done corporate events for my entire career. I love what I do. I love my job. Really I do. Even now, in our busy season, when we seem to work 24/7. It makes me happy. I started doing event planning almost right out of school and haven’t looked back since. It’s stressful. It’s creative. It’s fulfilling. In every sense of the word. I adore working with a team, and being with them in the trenches. I like working with the business to figure out how the event can help spread a message or build goodwill. There’s tons of fun to be had too. I’m not going to lie. We laugh a lot. And sometimes we cry. Unlike baseball, there is crying in corporate event planning.

So with all that said, it still isn’t what you think it is.

Here’s the best way to describe it:

Imagine you planned your brother’s wedding or party. You worked for months to help plan the look, the feel, the whole experience. You advised him on if the vows should be long or short – or if the newlyweds should do a first dance or have a cake cutting. You decided that because of budget, his party should probably be only appetizers, not a full meal. You worked with him to invite the right amount of people and were careful to not offend anyone.

Now imagine that after all that – the day of the wedding or party comes and the happy couple exchange vows or the invitees start coming in –  everyone is seemingly happy and content.

Now imagine guests start coming up to you randomly and telling you things like:

  • “Who picked this place? I was really hot in the back”
  • “The party…umm it was ok, but this morning the hotel I’m staying at took really long to bring my breakfast – kinda ruined the day for me”
  • “Why am I not sitting with the groom? He loves me. He told me I’d have really good seats”
  • “I wish we could have done it in June. August is so hard for me”
  • “I really wasn’t crazy about the vows. They were kinda cheesy”
  • “I know you can’t do this for everyone but my kid likes hot, curly fries for dinner. Everyday. Made with organic purple potatoes. Can you get that for us?”
  • “Did you actually pick the food on the buffet?”

And guess what. You do get the organic purple potatoes. And you apologize for the hotel not delivering room service fast enough and picking the wrong time and wrong space. You nod your head instead of saying the groom hates that person and specifically asked not to sit with them. And finally yes, you picked the food. You didn’t know it would suck that day. You should have known. Somehow.

You do all of this not because you’re forced to – but because your job is to make people happy. Not just the bride and groom or one family – your job is to make everyone happy. Which, by the way, never happens. So good luck with that.
Welcome to corporate events. Leave your sanity at the door.
 
 

Mira Mira!

I got back from Puerto Rico last week. I made it home just in time to help my baby girl get ready for junior prom.
The 7 days onsite were a whirlwind of activity.
Business meetings, lunches, dinners – all a blur now. The only thing I remember is Arthur, our crazy local photographer who would show up every day shouting “Mira!!” Which means “look at this”, “watch”, “come on” and “hello” all at the same time. And when you’re really excited you say it twice!
I learned a few things in Puerto Rico.
I learned that every Puerto Rican can read clouds and tell you how and when rain is coming.
I learned that almost all the food contains pork. Except for plantains and yogurt parfaits. Just kidding. The parfaits have pork too. I think.
I also learned that most people just want to dance.
Here’s some pics from the week – and although Arthur didn’t take these photos I feel the need to shout,”Mira Mira!” to you all.
Here’s some of the spaces we converted….from this….

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To this…

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From this…

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To this…

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And you know I took pics of the food…

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And did I mention there was dancing?! Lots and lots of dancing!

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Gracias Puerto Rico.

No ask too many questions!

Years ago, when a large part of my job involved literally making invites ( or melting hot wax in a spoon at midnight in the corporate cafeteria to seal those invites- true story) we would scour NYC for the best of everything. We knew the really good paper houses. We knew which store had the perfect envelopes. We knew where to get great flowers and even prettier vases. We spent hours on font styles and spacing. Hours. But that’s what happy insane planners in their twenties do. Right? I’m sure the Millennials are confused. Oh you of Etsy luxury. You have no idea what it means to be really grass roots. Or maybe you do. I dunno. I’m just a middle-aged Gen Xer trying to get by.
Wait, what was I talking about?
It was so nice in the city today that I walked to a further train station than usual and passed a small, stationary shop. It reminded me of the shops we would haunt and hunt in. My favorite of these oldies was a ribbon store on 28th Street or 29th street. That’s right people. A ribbon shop. Imagine a world without Michaels or AC Moore. Before The Knot or even Martha Stewart Magazine. There was/is a little shop devoted to ribbons. You can look for hours for ribbons for weddings, for gifts, for your hair – whatever you want. What you can’t do is “ask too many questions”. All along the walls are small, but clear signs,” no ask too many questions”.
To this day if one of my kids is badgering me, or if my husband is interrogating my trip to the store – this is what I think in my head. NO ASK TOO MANY QUESTIONS!

Roots-Trees-Forest

That’s a mantra I heard from a speaker at our last conference. The talk was about leadership. So simple and clear. A good leader has to see the roots, the trees and the forest. Got it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Something about the idea bothered me.
It’s a perfect concept for leadership. Don’t be stuck in the weeds. Don’t get bogged down by the minutiae.
Except that for events it’s all wrong. An event is all about the roots. The dirt. The seed. You start at the top and then you deconstruct.
You focus on every little detail.
Minutiae is my life.
You know that expression “stuck in the weeds”? I’m living in the weeds. So for all you future event planners out there – here’s the truth – Events is weeds, roots and dirt. You’ll be in it. All the time. Knee deep.
I should be a motivational speaker.
I get very reflective on 5 hour flights to the West Coast.
Here’s what I saw outside my window while writing this. Forget the roots – I’m up in the clouds. Oh the irony.

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Ernie Banks Moment

Next week is the first big conference at my new job. And since we are the event and conference group, it’s my team that runs it all. We get the credit or the blame – whichever way it goes. Most of the team is seasoned and has done multi day events before, but it’s the first time at the event for the new CEO. So everyone is nervous. We had our first big walk through yesterday and it went amazingly well. The team is buttoned up and ready – but they are still panicked that they’ll miss something. So I shared my favorite “I think I missed something” story (have I already shared this? If yes, sorry, go surf the internet and come back tomorrow).
Years ago I was doing my first big event in a new job, for two very – ahem – challenging bosses. The event was an interview with Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer, Ernie Banks. The event was in mid-February in downtown Chicago. Already fun right? For months I stressed about the venue, the weather, the staging, and whether anyone would actually show up to this thing. Did I mention it was crazy expensive? It was. I found the right interviewer for Ernie. I made sure we were taping it so we could use it again for something – look at me being cost effective! No stone was left uncovered!
Cut to the morning of the event.
I had flown in with one of my bosses the night before and had a nice, passive aggressive dinner where she reminded me how important it was that I don’t mess up.
Gulp. Yummy.
The next day, I woke up at 5am – even though we weren’t setting up until 1pm – in a cold, hard sweat with one thought:
I never invited Ernie Banks to the Ernie Banks event!!!!!!!!! Omg!!! WTF??!!
I had visions of how it would go down.
Instead of facing the humiliation, I would just head to the airport and go home.
There were other jobs, I thought.
How could I have forgotten to invite him?
But of course I did.
Ernie was all set to go.
But I was so freaked that I actually called his house at 6:30…I forced myself not to call at 5:30. His housekeeper picked up and I pretended to be his car service and asked,” is a 6pm pick-up ok for Ernie tonight?” She said he was all set and hung up.
Real story.
Please note that this didn’t happen in my first few years as a planner. I was a so-called professional at that point.
Every planner has an Ernie Banks story, it’s part of the job.
Moral of the story – you invited Ernie Banks. Everything is ok.

The Lunch Table

This picture is circa 2000.
I had just gotten a job at a Fortune 500 in NYC. After two years of being at home with my baby, I was back at work as an event planner and loving it. Technically I wasn’t a planner until a year later – in the beginning I was an admin.
An admin to an insane, crazy, brilliant woman who ran our group. The woman who gave me a 45 minute lecture on using colored folders instead of beige folders (the colors distracted her as she walked by my cube). The woman who called me from the Tarmac while boarding a flight to tell me she doesn’t like prop planes and why hadn’t I known that and I better fix it ASAP (I couldn’t because there were only prop planes flying to this part of Colorado. I had offered to book her a car the day before when I warned her about this but she hadn’t been listening, something about researching the perfect toilet – no joke).
But all those moments that would have driven me to quit turned into funny stories we shared. Funny war stories at the lunch table.
We worked really really hard. Almost 24/7. Weekends. Holidays. For no money. It was rough.
But every day, we had lunch together – the whole group. There are a few ladies missing from this pic but this was the core group. We also had a Swiss National and a Brit.
We bitched, we ranted, we raved, but most of all – we laughed.
This restaurant lunch was a rarity. Almost all lunches were either in the cafeteria or at a table on our floor.
No one from other groups ever joined – probably because they weren’t invited. This was anti-networking. This was cocooning.
The majority of the lunch was used to make fun of each other. And there was plenty of material. Marriages, weirdo eating habits, childhood traumas – all ripe for the picking. We left our egos in our cube. Belly laughter ensued.
Then we’d go back to working our asses off.
There were weddings, babies, break-ups, promotions, and more.
The crazy boss lady left. And shockingly, in hindsight, I would miss her. Aside from the batshit crazy episodes, I learned a lot from her. And from all those ladies.
It was and continues to be the best job I ever had.

(not sure why I have glasses on? contact lense malfunction that morning?)

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