The memory of 2017’s fraudulent Fyre Festival may have been swept under the rug by the slew of public scams that followed, from Elizabeth Holmes to fake socialite Anna Delvey. But the creator of the legendary Fyre Festival that never was has served his time, and he’s already back with new ideas.
Billy McFarland, the fraudster and entrepreneur who cofounded the disastrous Fyre Festival in 2017, is now a free man after four years of prison and six months of house arrest ended last September. McFarland was convicted of several fraudulent schemes and making false statements to authorities.
But prison was far from time poorly spent, according to McFarland, who claims he used his time behind bars, including 10 months of solitary confinement as punishment after he participated in a podcast using a prison phone, cooking up his next business project: leveraging his marketing résumé for startup clients. And this time, he’s promising it isn’t a scam.
McFarland has been “plotting how to make it up to everyone” over the past four years, he wrote in a tweet Sunday. He admitted that while he “broke the law,” his marketing credentials are indisputable after executing “one of the most viral social media campaigns. Ever.”
Marketing an idea
McFarland’s tweet was referring to the marketing campaign behind the Fyre Festival, which drummed up massive interest in an event that turned into the polar opposite of expectations.
In 2017, he charged would-be festivalgoers up to $12,000 a ticket to attend his music festival on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma, where the promised luxury villas, A-list musical acts, and fine dining were replaced by no performances, unpaid employees, and disaster relief tents.
The event has since become the subject of two documentaries chronicling the chaos and its creator’s downfall, but the debacle had been founded on an unrelenting online hype machine in the weeks leading up to the festival. The event’s marketing campaign was built on the promotions of supermodels and influencers and luxurious branding geared toward a wealthy audience.
The campaign proved to be a success, as the previously unheard-of festival managed to sell out 95% of its tickets in the first 48 hours of sale.
‘Want to learn my method?’
In his Twitter post, McFarland invited startup founders and entrepreneurs to learn from his highly successful strategy. “Want to learn my method?” he asked, before boiling down his marketing philosophy to an ability to give people what they want more than anything: “To get access to the things they can’t have.”
He called this rule the “basis of all viral marketing,” adding that in early inquiries on social media to gauge interest in his services, he has already received “hundreds” of requests.
McFarland did not immediately reply to Fortune’s request for comment on his new project, including how much he expects to charge prospective clients for consulting.
Startup founders and other business leaders may want to make sure they have a product they can sell before devising a social media campaign around it. Failing to deliver on promises, and spending massive sums on marketing centered around a doomed idea was one of McFarland and Fyre Festival’s biggest missteps, Cassandra Demasi, a senior account manager at Simple Integrated Marketing, an Australian firm, wrote in a 2019 LinkedIn blog post dissecting Fyre Festival’s marketing strategy.
“They invested heavily on marketing an experience that didn’t even exist yet,” Demasi wrote. “Focus on creating an epic product first and ensure that you are able to deliver that product to your customers, then create your marketing campaign to sell that said product.”
Demasi added that the influencer model Fyre relied on could work, but advised against spending indiscriminate amounts on famous names who know nothing about the product. Kendall Jenner, for instance, was paid $275,000 to promote the festival.
In response to a tweet questioning how he would pay people affected by his scam, McFarland replied: “Working 85-hour weeks and doing my best to provide value so I can earn and make small steps to pay back those I owe.”
Whether or not marketing consultant career plans pan out, McFarland is already brimming with new ideas now that he is a free man. He announced another big venture in an interview with NBC earlier this month, and it sounds eerily familiar. The new project is called PYRT (pronounced “pirate”), and will include, yes, a remote island getaway event for influencers and creators that, McFarland emphasized, will not be a festival.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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