Top 5 Biggest Event Planning Fails in History

Not all events are created equal. In fact, some are created awful. Like angry press, negative 1 star review, never-will-I-ever-attend-this-event-again awful. Today the Sparxo team is counting down the top 5 biggest event planning failures so you can both laugh and learn from them. And then go back to laughing because, psh, what were these event planners thinking? These events are so bad they’re good.

  1. Trapped in TomorrowWorld 2015

TomorrowWorld 2015 was so incredible, event goers never wanted it to end. Trouble was, they got their wish.

Mid-concert, a storm rolled in and flooded the Chattahoochee Hills venue. All roads in and out of TomorrowWorld were closed, leaving the concert goers trapped. It was like Cast Away, except with more prickly social media influencers and less Academy Awards. Needless to say, it was a total freaking disaster.

With heavy rain and nowhere to sleep, people got sick of waiting for the roads to open. Many struck out on their own. Thousands of concert-goers marched through for miles in the mud to reach Ubers and Shuttles, which weren’t able to get close to the closed-off concert roads. If that wasn’t bad enough, the high demand for Ubers meant some had to pay hundreds of dollars just to escape TomorrowWorld. “They left us to rot,” said one festival goer, “Like the walking dead.” Concert goers went from never wanting to go home to not being able to go home. Careful what you wish for.

Lesson: Have a backup plan. And a backup plan for your backup plan. It can be easy for experienced event planners to forget about Murphy’s law, to forget that no matter how skilled, nature can turn anyone’s event on its head. Be sure you have safety procedures in place and a way to keep people informed. In a worst-case-scenarios like TomorrowWorld, even if it’s not possible to arrange transportation out of the event, event planners can provide some support to attendees, putting a positive spin on a negative experience. Event planners could give out tents, raincoats, free food, care packages, and discounts to future events. Freebies. Something to prove the event cares about its attendees. With TomorrowWorld’s swollen budget, event planners could have even afforded to airdrop freaking scooters. And if all else fails sure, giving out refunds isn’t ideal, but it’s better than an angry, wet customer base. When planning events, assume that anything that can go wrong, will.

  1. Putting the Hot in Hotline

Veteran event planners have the best stories. Senior event planner Erika Turan recalls her most gruesome event horror story, where a hotline mixup ended in a very spicy twist.

Turan worked under a usually very capable event planner, who’d done everything by the book. Turan had just helped him set up the perfect medical service event, complete with a responsible budget and mailpiece, all carefully maneuvered around physician politics. Everything was great. Hot, even. But for some reason, nobody was registering. The phone never rang. So Turan checked the number.

The event’s perfectly memorable hotline registration number had been listed as 800-555-0000 instead of 888-555-0000. The wrong number. The number everyone had been calling to register belonged, in fact, to an adult entertainment hotline. The callers got the checkup of their lives.

Lesson: Test, test, test! Never set up a call line, an email address, anything, without testing it. Send a sample email, make a test call. If possible, get an outsider to do this, to give you a sense of what the sign-up or hotline experience is like for an event goer.

No matter how sharp your event planning skills are, testing and checking your work will always be essential. A double or triple check could be the difference between a hot event and a, err, hot event. You know what we mean.

  1. And the Million Dollar Deal Goes to… Nike’s Imaginary friend!

In 2013, Nike finally invited Stephen Curry in for a shoe deal. This was big for them. Curry was a rising star and had family working for Nike. Plus, he was already a fan of Nike shoes. Besides Nike wasn’t just any shoe company, they were the shoe company in 2013. They should have had this deal in the bag, one easy shoot and swish. Should have. Enter, incompetence and impersonalization.

Nike began by welcoming ‘Steph-on’ Curry to the pitch, thanking him for his time and telling him how big of fans they were. Big fans of Steph-on, they just couldn’t wait to work with him.

…Wait. There is no Steph-on Curry? Nike confused him for a Family Matters character?! Because Nike had no idea who the real Stephen Curry even was?!?

And the mixups only got worse. The staff’s pitch PowerPoint addressed Kevin Durant instead of Steph Curry, the event staff reusing the old Durant pitch for Steph, forgetting to switch the names around. Awkward. Steph Curry’s father says Steph “Kept his poker face on,” but “Stopped paying attention after that.” Steph obviously turned Nike down, before signing with Under Armour. He went on to make millions for Under Armour, his brand of shoes second only to Jordans in sales. Nike must be kicking themselves.

Lesson: Relationships count. That’s why you’re inviting real live people to these events, right? People appreciate people who pay attention to them, who knows what’s going on in their lives, in their business, and at the very least, know their freaking name. Event planning and business superstar Dale Carnegie once said that “The Sweetest sound to any man is the sound of his own name.” And it’s true. Cultivating personal relationships before, during, and after an event will make the difference between a success and a failure, and hopefully keep things a whole lot awkward. So shake hands. Stay focused on the event goers. Send follow-ups. And if you’ve got influencers and awards, please, please learn names. We know it’s hard. But it’s worth it. Just ask Steph Curry.

  1. Not Chicken Nuggets. Presidential Chicken Nuggets.

January 2019, mid-Government shutdown, the President invited the Clemson Tigers to a White House dinner. You’d think fine dining at the highest office in the land, right. Steak, silver platters. White tablecloths. That sort of thing.  

But remember the government was shut down, there were no federal employees in the White House. No federal chefs were available to make the meal. So the president was forced to order out.

Did they go with caviar? Steak? Some fancy DC chain? Nope, the event planners ordered fast food. They had a truckload of McDonald’s, Wendy’s burgers, chicken nuggets, Domino’s pizza (and some salad!) sent into the white house for dinner. Oof.

When asked why on earth a white house dinner, renowned for its exclusivity and class, would do this, the president said “Because of the shutdown. So we set out and got this. We have some wonderful people working at the White House that helped us out with this…We have to have border security.”

The president wasn’t thinking brand or experience, he was thinking politics. And now anyone lucky enough to RSVP for a White House dinner will have to wonder will I be served McDonald’s? And more importantly: should I bring ketchup?

Lesson: Brand and experience are everything. It’s awful for an event to fall apart, sure, but it’s worse when a reputation falls apart too. Not only did the White House’s event planning for the dinner spark online outrage, but it also seriously damaged the White House brand and experience. There’s less faith in them. Their guests of honor came all the way to the White House only to be served fast food from around the corner. Worse, the menu made the White House look like an ad for McDonalds. Not only did their brand suffer, but it was eclipsed by fast food companies. Double no-no. This begs the question: How will you keep your brand intact? How will your brand be remembered? Well, one great way to brand an event or company is by having your own domain name, like www.yournameherepresents.com. Plenty of web template companies like Square Space ($12 bucks a month) make this easy, fast, and cheap to have a beautiful, mobile-optimized website in no time. Having your own branded website, allows your audience to know where to go for future events and build trust.

This is so crucial for ticket sales too. Instead of making yourself dependent on big third-party ticketing companies that hide your brand (Looking at you, Eventbrite and Brown Paper Tickets), consider putting them to work for your brand. First, post your event on these big ticketing platforms to see if anyone new finds you through them. That way you’ll convert anyone who finds you from those ticketing sites into fans of your own website, your own brand. Then when the event ends, send event goers an email recap after the event thanking them for their support and to check out your own website for future events. In reality, companies like those don’t really help you sell more tickets. A majority of your sales come from your own brand and marketing efforts. Check out this case study.

See, this is what companies like ours do. We allow you to post your event and sell tickets for your event anywhere, letting you integrate ticket selling it directly into your website with no redirects – all for free. Sparxo also lets you import your guest lists and sales lists from other systems into Sparxo so you can aggregate all of your customer data for data analytics like identifying repeat attendees and have one seamless check-in system. This will make things so much smoother, and so much more personal. Win-win, right? Plus, you’ll make more money. Like, a lot more. WIth Sparxo, you keep 100% of your ticket price! The best part? Sparxo is free.

So there you have it, hacks to avoid having your brand swallowed like fast food, plus SEO nuggets to empower your brand. Heh. Nuggets.

  1. The Fyre Festival Fraud

Fyre Festival has become the most infamous event planning failure of the century, if not ever. Fyre was such a colossal dumpster fire of an event, the company got pinned with hundreds of lawsuits, thousands of angry attendees, and its own Netflix documentary on its spectacular failure. For those of you not up to date on internet outrage, here’s what happened:

Fyre was a failed music festival slated to take place on in the Bahamas, the supposed “luxuries” of this island festival advertised by social media influencers, models and rappers all paid to say good things.

Unfortunately, most of the “luxuries” were lies. Fyre had no intention or even the ability to deliver what was promised. When the day of the festival arrived, there were humongous issues with security, food, accommodation, medical services, and musician relations, causing the event to be postponed indefinitely. Instead of “luxury” villas and fancy meals the attendees were promised, they got soggy FEMA sandwiches and makeshift tents. The festival’s founder went to jail for fraud, with $26 million in fines. Ouch.

Lesson: Don’t over-promise and under deliver. When advertising and promoting or even just chatting with event goers and influencers, be modest. Don’t downplay your events great qualities, but don’t embellish or oversell either. Fyre promised private jets, sandy beaches, gourmet cuisine, and exclusive bands — attendees paid thousands of dollars in ticket costs for these big promises. Instead, they got soggy sandwiches. And rain. Lots of rain.

This sort of hype and overselling risks disappointments your attendees, and worse, destroying their trust. Remember how brand was trust? Well, yeah, you can imagine how under delivering would obliterate brand. Fyre’s brand is so toxic it didn’t just shut down, but it’s now an adjective meaning the opposite of fire. “That event was so not-fire that it was Fyre. Trash!” When advertising tickets, definitely do stress your brand’s good points but don’t exaggerate. Your event’s awesomeness will speak for itself.

 

Sources Cited:

“3 Special Event Fails – and What They Taught Me.” LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/pulse/3-special-event-fails-what-taught-me-erika-turan/.

Joseph, Andrew. “The White House Really Did Serve Clemson a Fast-Food Feast on Silver Platters.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 16 Jan. 2019, ftw.usatoday.com/2019/01/trump-white-house-clemson-fast-food-mcdonalds-wendys-burger-king-silver-platters-photos-reaction.

Godwin, Becca. “How TomorrowWorld Became an Epic Disaster Of Near-Riots and Looming Lawsuits.” Vice, VICE, 28 Sept. 2015, www.vice.com/en_us/article/gvngkx/how-tomorrowworld-became-an-epic-disaster-of-near-riots-and-looming-lawsuits.

“Why Did John Travolta Mess Up Idina Menzel’s Name? The Truth Revealed.” Broadway.com, www.broadway.com/buzz/179663/why-did-john-travolta-mess-up-idina-menzels-name-the-truth-revealed/.“The Lessons of the Fyre Festival.” INFLUENCE, INFLUENCE, 5 Feb. 2019, influence.bloglovin.com/the-lessons-of-fyre-festival-a79f983ea374?gi=4305de1d129d.