PR Is No Substitute for Performance

Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald Fyre Festival Blog Post

By now, most of you have seen at least something about the recent Fyre Fest controversy.  If you’re not familiar with this train wreck of an aborted event, here’s a link to a story that fairly well sums it all up. 

Since then I’ve read more than one blog post by PR pros who have referred to the Fyre Fest debacle as a “PR disaster”.  While surely that is the case, it is also the case that those commentaries seem to miss the point completely. From my perspective, some writers either confuse corporate or institutional performance with PR or, seem to imply that PR exists for its own sake only, as if public relations is a stand-alone exercise that bears no relationship to the projects, programs or products it is designed to support.

The reality is that PR exists only to make other things possible…stronger reputations, better sales, higher visibility, etc. It doesn’t, and shouldn’t exist just to serve itself or the people who work in the field.

At the risk of making this complicated, or of hacking off my colleagues (and the writers of those aforementioned blog posts and opinion pieces), the disaster that was Fyre Fest, wasn’t about PR at all. It wasn’t caused by PR. Nor could it have been solved or avoided by PR.  Pure and simple, it was about performance and honoring the commitments made to those who paid to attend.

Rather than becoming the poster child for bad PR, Fyre Fest should instead be the poster child for people actively seeking to do bad things. That’s the story here. Those who are fixated on what a poor job the communicators did should instead confront the fact that making incompetent or unethical people look like either saints or victims are really doing the rest of the professional PR world a disservice, and they are playing right into the hands of the millions of skeptics who view us as PR flaks, spin doctors or apologists for bad actors.

In the final analysis, corporate or institutional performance alone creates either opportunities or challenges for PR professionals. Performance, the keeping of promises and the meeting of expectations, drives what we do and how we do it.  It’s a step backward for our industry and our clients when we start to view crises strictly by how they were communicated rather than by how they came about and why they were mismanaged in the first place.  And it lets our clients off the hook by not holding them accountable for their own misdeeds and mistakes or by not insisting that their performance does justice to our PR.