After four years in jail for promising a luxurious island experience and delivering tents and cold cheese sandwiches in a Sandals parking lot, Billy McFarlane believes he can restore himself by setting up another business outside the island that wanted him arrested reputation.
McFarland is the mastermind behind the infamous Fyre Festival, organized by his talent booking company Fyre, which relies on social media marketing from models like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner to attract wealthy millennials. The fraudster has launched a sweeping apology tour, with McFarlane saying he is ready to pay back the $26 million he owes investors, partners and attendees, and that three institutions have decided that even the most notorious scammers Deserves a second chance too.
While some ad agencies see building his new venture as an interesting challenge, Eric Schiffer, chairman of reputation management consultants, calls it “a lottery to potential hell.” lottery”.
Joining the redemption arc McFarlane has crafted for himself is a new adventure. Dubbed PYRT (pronounced “pirate”), the idea was to transport creators back to a boutique hotel in the Bahamas and ask them to keep fans intimately involved in the entire experience through livestreaming, 360-degree cameras, and virtual reality.
Although Bahamas Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper has labeled him a fugitive, McFarlane claims he still has “very close friends and supporters” on the island and hopes that if he can pay off the Fyre Fest crew, the fanbase will will grow.
“Business is about showing people that they can do things they didn’t think were possible,” McFarlane told Adweek, positioning himself as a charmingly ambitious entrepreneur rather than a seasoned con artist. “It’s my mantra in life and it makes me think about all the good and bad things that have happened.”
Instead of targeting only the elite like he did at Fyre Fest, McFarlane showed off his philanthropy by getting people who didn’t have thousands of dollars to be scammed in the first place. PYRT, which McFarland launched with his longtime friend Mike Falb, won over branding agency Slaps, tech-focused agency Unconfined and full-service agency NOX.
The shops said their motivations for taking part in the project included McFarland’s commitment to compensation and partnerships, as well as the upfront payment and their own excitement about the business idea.
“The people around Billy were more likely to say ‘no,'” says Unconfined founder and creative director Alejandro Corpus, referring to the unrealistic timeline McFarland created when he tried to hold Fyre Fest. “We’re not here to be his echo. There’s a lot of scrutiny on what he does and who he is, so we protect ourselves by explaining to him that these things take time.”
Hopes for a comeback story
When PYRT was a half-baked idea, Falb was in charge of finding agency partners and strategically concealed the identities of his business partners until the time of the meeting.
Despite this tactic of getting his foot in the door, McFarlane claims that “people have been much more positive than I expected,” citing support from sympathetic agency partners for his professional brand and his personal journey of redemption.
“I put myself in his shoes at 25 years old and he’s made a lot of mistakes and he’s surrounded by the wrong people,” Corpus said, adding that if McFarland worked with “an experienced agency like Unconfined,” things would work out. Will be different Known for deliverables. We are differentiating ourselves as a company that can rebrand and launch successful products. ”
After initially agreeing to an interview, NOX co-founder and chief creative officer Matthew Ligotti declined Adweek’s request, explaining that he wanted his store to “stay in the background as the project progresses.” McFarland admits not everyone is eager to hook up with him – he claims PYRT is funded by social media content he’s privately commissioning for brands, in addition to Cameo revenue, documentaries being produced by Ample Entertainment and Freemantle, and exclusive Leaf trading cards Row.
“It can be transactional,” McFarlane said, adding that he’s “good at producing content that gets a lot of attention,” a trait he says is attractive to new ventures. “People’s desire to succeed ignores a lot of my past mistakes.”
McFarlane added that brands are “limiting my exposure” by keeping their relationship with him secret. He won’t reveal too much about his clients, but mentions that a “Grammy Award-winning artist” and job search platform Bounty Hunter World are paying him to handle their social media marketing.
In addition to the financial risk involved in befriending a white-collar felon, Schiffer, an entrepreneur, author and CNN contributor who has worked since 2007 to repair the damaged reputations of high-profile celebrities and brands, said the decision came with “a sense of Desperate.” Before an agency takes on a new client, its leaders need to ask themselves whether the majority of their staff would be comfortable with the project, he added, while carefully considering the response from current and future clients.
“All media is not good media for an agency,” said Jennifer Risi, founder and president of The Sway Effect, a marketing and communications agency. “You are your company, and you need to make sure you work with brands that share your values and mission.”
Quote “Content Revolution”
In addition to her professed proficiency in content creation, McFarlane has noticed a shift in thinking in the business world since he got out of prison. In order to distance themselves from corporate America and appeal to a younger audience, marketers are less concerned about their image and more willing to take risks, he said.
Corpus, the most public of the three agency chiefs about his relationship with PYRT, said other clients found the fact that the brand was run by McFarland “more interesting than anything else.”
“The people who are most afraid of getting involved hide the most,” McFarlane said, adding that brands that work with controversial partners seem to be the most authentic. “The content revolution of the past five years has made this possible.”
Slaps, a branding agency that focuses on projects that appeal to Gen Z and streetwear culture, is drawn to clients with a “strong story” and looking to do more than drive revenue.
“He said his purpose was to repay the people he wronged while bridging the digital and physical worlds,” says founder and creative director Sébastien Vandecasteele. “We’re taking a leap of faith, but if he says he started the company just to Rebuild his reputation and our values will not align.”
Despite his enthusiasm, Vandecasteele wanted to see how PYRT was going before showing the case study directly to clients or adding it to Slaps’ website. Corpus said taking risks and “seeing how it plays out” is part of the agency business, but Schiffer added that any degree of ties to McFarland at this time would carry high stakes.
“It’s possible that Billy has corrected his business ethics and wants to really deliver value and have a system that does that,” he said. “But without verification, agencies are taking a big gamble that could end up in court if they’re wrong.”
Despite serving four years in federal prison for attempting to orchestrate a massive island operation, McFarlane was reluctant to return to the adventure that led to his death.
“There are a few things in life that I have to do, and having some kind of festival is certainly one of them,” McFarlane said. “This needs to be done sometime in the near future.”