An Ethics Nightmare Sure to Fyre You Up

If you haven’t yet seen the Fyre Festival documentaries or heard about the debacle, you may want to go watch them and then come back. If you’re ok with spoilers, then stay with me. Amongst other things, the Fyre Festival was an ethical nightmare. There are two documentaries out now which outline a stark lesson in social media marketing, influencer marketing, client relations, crisis communication, and how NOT to combat an ethical dilemma in the workplace.

I could talk about each of these issues individually and address their importance on the public relations profession, but the most relevant lesson for us in this context is on ethics, or the lack thereof.

Here’s a quick summary of the situation: an ambitious young businessman with the help of many marketing and digital media agencies attempted to put on an elite musical festival in the Bahamas. Throughout the process, outrageous promises were made then broken, money was not paid, and many ethical lines were blurred.

Ethics has long been debated in our field. And, the dilemma of promoting a new concept to the consumer, one that may not live up to the hype or even be 100 percent truthful, isn’t new. But how do we clearly draw the line between selling a façade and plainly lying to consumers? That’s what happened in Fyre Fest. The promoters sold an exclusive party experience, but in reality it ended up as just a couple hundred unfurnished tents. Customers were promised this unforgettable experience on a private island, but what they were provided was nothing short of a disaster.  

The worst part of the story lies in how many respected practitioners were willing to waver on their moral compass to make money. This plan passed through directors, account executives, marketing managers, full media teams, logistics coordinators and still no one spoke up until the very end, when the damage had already been done. Speaking up in unethical situations clearly isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it only takes one to make a difference. No amount of money, intriguing campaign concept or promising client should entice any of us to slip on ethics.

Ethical dilemmas in the workplace confront us every single day, which is why the PRSA Code of Ethics was established. The code was put in place to hold every public relations professional to the same ethical standard. So, even if your personal ethics might not be in question, referring to the code to help guide business practices can help put a buffer between you and opportunities that seem too good to be true. Don’t get caught up in a Fyre, stay grounded in the code.  


Sierra Prince is a senior marketing and public relations major at Ohio Northern University. She is a member of ONU’s PRSSA chapter.