5 PR Lessons To Learn From the Ja Rule Fyre Festival Disaster
People who say there’s no such thing as bad publicity obviously haven’t heard of the Fyre Festival
This is one of the biggest PR Myths of all, that’s perpetuated again and again by people who want their 15 minutes of fame. Bad press is definitely a thing, and as a business, you should avoid it at all costs.
However, if you’re a brand or public figure who’s found yourself on the wrong side of bad press, it’s not the end of the world. With a little effort and transparency you can bounce back from even the worst of bad press.
In 2017, Ja Rule suffered this fate when the Fyre Festival disaster unraveled.
The chaos seemed to temporarily die down, only to reappear with a vengeance, as two infamous documentaries aired on Netflix and Hulu.
The myth goes that Ja Rule came up with the idea for Fyre Festival. And that his co-founder Billy McFarland would deliver on his vision.
The rest, as they say is history. McFarland now serves a six-year jail term for various frauds, whereas Ja Rule’s reputation has been forever tarnished.
What remains in the aftermath of Fyre Festival is the reminder of what a true PR Disaster looks like.
“There’s No Such Things as Bad Publicity”
The idea that bad press cannot hurt you is a lie.
Although Ja Rule has escaped much of Fyre Festival’s controversy, it continues to impact him:
- From botched halftime shows.
- To daily social media trolling.
- And even the opening speech of the 2019 Oscars.
Nobody’s immune to bad publicity. But you can overcome the worst of it so long as you approach it in a certain way.
I’ve learned this after a decade of PR experience, and a few PR blunders of my own. If Ja Rule came to me right now wanting to repair his brand, this is how I would help him turn this PR Disaster into massive opportunity.
1: Own the Situation
The worst thing you can do when bad publicity hits is to play the victim. You need to own it, not come up with excuses.
He said how he was taking responsibility, yet also stated in capitals: “NOT MY FAULT”.
This doesn’t help his cause. In fact, it may be worse than not taking responsibility at all. It places emphasis on how he too is a victim.
But people don’t want to know how he was also scammed. He willingly put his name next to Fyre Festival, and needs to own this fact.
When bad publicity hits, you need to apologize. And you need to be sincere.
The public cannot forgive you until you say sorry, and actually show remorse for your actions. By coming up with excuses or placing blame elsewhere, you simply make things worse.
Again, Ja Rule did apologize after the Fyre Festival disaster.
But I cannot get past his statement of “this is not my fault.” It questions how sincere his apology is. And if there’s anything worse than no apology, it’s a fake or empty one.
3: Prepare for More Backlash
Always prepare yourself for more backlash. Oftentimes that first wave of bad publicity isn’t the worst. Especially these days with social media, bad press can linger for months!
It’s important you respond to this in a timely manner. Not just when it first happens, but when the next wave of backlash hits. And the next wave. And the wave after that.
By being prompt in responding to backlash, you can get ahead of the story, while simultaneously showing customers you’re serious about making the situation right.
Continue to own the situation.
This is where Ja Rule fell flat again, as shortly afterwards he launched a new app (similar to the original Fyre App). At best, this appears insensitive to those scammed by Fyre Festival.
Was this the best timing? No.
Did this increase the backlash? Yes!
4: Reward Your Loyal, Raving Fans
Once the initial wave of backlash is over, you need to ask: how can I continue to build rapport with my loyal audience?
You won’t please everyone, but your loyal audience wants to give you the benefit of doubt. These people can be your biggest asset during a PR crisis.
Reward them. Do something BIG for them. Your loyal, raving fans can help you bounce back quickly.
For Ja Rule, he could have done a series of free shows to reward his supporters. He’s already staged a comeback tour with Ashanti, but was this for his raving fans or for his own bank account?
5: Create a Plan
Most important of all, you need to create a plan of action!
You can minimize even the worst of bad press with the right plan in place. This may involve re-branding, arranging strategic media interviews or creating new content. Each disaster requires a different plan, but the point is to have one.
- What’s the plan right now?
- What’s the plan for later this year?
- What’s the plan for when everything blows over?
This is why involving someone with PR experience is important. They know what to do and when, and how to make things better instead of worse.
Although there is DEFINITELY such thing as bad press, you can almost always overcome it.
In fact, with the right plan in place you can help your brand massively in the long term, despite any immediate backlash you may initially receive.
Disasters like Fyre Festival force you to be humble and honest. It shows your human side. At the end of the day, most people respect this.
It can help build closer ties with your loyal, raving fans.
It can also introduce you to a whole new audience.
I’ve seen this happen with brands like KFC, who quickly turned around a PR Disaster. They were open and honest. They said sorry.
I imagine they had a smart, talented PR Expert in charge helping them turn a PR crisis into a massive comeback. And in situations like this, consulting an expert can mean the different between business longevity and total failure.
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