thought leadership

Beer Festivals & Local Economies: How to Avoid Fyre Syndrome

Craft beer festivals have grown in popularity as brand extensions. The events provide authentic ways for small and independent breweries to engage with people and for local communities to boost travel and tourism while growing their local economies. That’s something we can all get behind.

And the craft brewing industry is big business for local communities throughout the country. Small and independent brewers added $76.2 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017.

North Carolina ranks 10th in the nation with an economic impact of more than $2 billion from almost 300 craft breweries, the seventh-most in the nation. With so much at stake, the production of a large-scale festival or event can be a make-or-break moment for communities.

On May 4, the craft beer app Untappd produced a festival in Charlotte, N.C., for an expected crowd of 12,500 people. The weather caused a series of major disruptions – from long lines to not enough shelter — and complaints about the poor quality of event swag also fueled social media and local media outlets, drawing parallels to the Fyre Festival, the ill-fated music event from 2018.

Entirely different from Fyre in format, location, and goals, the Untappd event was one of the most anticipated spring events in the region, and it had the backing of high-profile executives to help increase Bank of America Stadium’s event-planning services.

To their credit, the Untappd team did their best to inform attendees about the weather and address other complaints, but the takeaway for attendees was not positive. The event even trended across the U.S. on Twitter.

With so much at stake – reputation, revenue, and future event bookings – how can brands stay ahead of the unexpected? We looked to our crisis communications playbook for a few answers.

Wear a crisis communications hat

  • Develop Holding Statements: Anticipate a range of potential situations and create copy that can be quickly edited on the fly. This advance planning will help reduce the time-to-audience information gaps and shorten the timeframe of the unknown. Situations can include: security breach, inclement weather, running out of product, and other event crisis situations. Create a plan that can be adaptable based on the situation and quickly activated, if needed.
  • Leverage Digital Media:
    • WhatsApp Group: Invite confirmed vendor contacts to a group chat on WhatsApp. This will serve as a communications platform for reaching attendees on the ground with breaking news or other updates about weather, parking, and any changes to the event.
    • Social Media: The top communication channels for large-scale events are social media and the event’s app. Create advance content that shares directives that will keep people informed and safe before, during, and after the event. Particularly important is information on where to go to wait out a storm if the outdoor venue is not safe (your car, etc.).
    • Event App: Create banner updates within the app to keep attendees updated and help direct the flow of attendees.
  • Know Your Audience and Where They Are: Research other social platforms, similar events, and possible situations that those events experienced to inform your proactive plan.
  • Research the Local Area: Know the local area and secure other indoor facilities in advance to shelter people in case of an emergency.
  • Provide Digital Signage: Place temporary outdoor signage within one-quarter mile of the venue to update attendees about parking, approaching weather, or special events inside the venue perimeter.

When you are producing a large-scale event or festival, looking through a proactive crisis communications lens can you help prepare for the worst so your guests will enjoy the best.

About the author:
Kiersten Williams has more than 20 years of strategic communications experience and is Director of Public Relations at Clean, an integrated branding agency in Raleigh, N.C.