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10 Times Amateurs Tried to Run Events and Failed

By Christina Green
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Much like brain surgery, event planning is something best left to the professionals. Here are ten stories of times when things went horribly wrong for amateur event planners.

Event planning is one of those careers that everyone believes they could do. It’s just a party after all, right? But things can go disastrously wrong when novices take the lead. Here are a few examples of times when amateurs tried and failed spectacularly.

10 Times Amateurs Tried to Run Events and Failed

Fyre Festival

The Fyre Festival was touted as a luxury music festival to be held in the Bahamas on a private island. What it ended up being was a crowded mess where people who spent $1,000-12,000 for tickets were left sleeping in tents that were closer to a homeless village than the Ritz. Reports said it was mass chaos.

The organizers of the inaugural event issued a statement about it. “We thought we were ready, but then everyone arrived. The team was overwhelmed. The airport was jam packed. The buses couldn't handle the load. And the wind from rough weather took down half of the tents on the morning our guests were scheduled to arrive. This is an unacceptable guest experience and the Fyre team takes full responsibility for the issues that occurred."

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Ultra Music Festival Miami 2014

At the Ultra Music Festival Miami in 2014, a guard was nearly trampled to death. While it was due to crowds rushing the area, the situation could’ve been avoided. The city had mandated that a reinforced type of fencing be used to contain the crowd in the area. However, the concession company asked that it not be used so as to give them easier access to move their equipment in and out. Safety first, unless there’s food involved.

Google for Entrepreneurs

A planner for Campus London, a space for entrepreneurs, put together an event about cyber security and hacking. She quickly realized the importance of good marketing when only 18 people showed up. Strong content and a good event aren’t enough to get people interested. You need to market it tirelessly. Use a catchy name. Employ social media. If you’re busy, ensure someone else is picking up the marketing slack.

“Fun Shoot”

Some novice event planners match special holidays celebrations with inappropriate events. Take for instance this terrible pairing. You have a national holiday in the U.S. honoring a great American. So what type of activity would be appropriate to celebrate such as event? A parade? A festival? How about a fun shooting event at the skeet range? Sounds like a good time doesn’t it? Except when the great American was Martin Luther King Jr., a man gunned down in his prime.

The planners behind the Air Force’s 78th Support Squadron made what was called an “honest mistake” by Air Force officials and they received remedial training afterward.

Bloc Festival 2012

The venue for the Bloc Festival 2012 event was a boat that would serve as the main stage but underestimating capacity kept many festival goers from being able to board. The bars ran out of beer by 10:30 pm the first night. The music couldn’t be heard over a sub-par sound system and crowds milling about caused the event organizers to cancel the festival on the spot.

Blueprint Festival 2009

Two Australian “lads” under 25 decided a music festival with no lines and a beer tent would be awesome. Their marketing collaterals read, ''Blueprint Festival is offering the best three days and nights you could possibly get in Victoria … and we promise it will not break the bank.” Sadly for them, it did, leaving them in a mountain of debt.

The event attracted 5,000 attendees but didn’t bring in the amount of revenue they anticipated. Ticket prices were “too low” and according to planners lax security allowed lots of attendees to bring in their own alcohol, diminishing revenue in that department. Pricing is critical to profit, a difficult lesson learned.

Too Many People

One of the largest mistakes amateurs seem to make, and it’s one you will read about over and over again, is handling success. A sell-out event can be more of an issue than empty seats because amateurs often don’t know how to handle this. Sometimes they don’t even expect a sell-out crowd, particularly if it’s a free event and people don’t register. When attendees show up and there’s no space for them, tempers flare quickly.

Many novice event planners come to realize some admission fee is better than none because you have a stronger idea of who’s coming. The other option is to have someone at the door checking off registrants. This person will also need to turn them away when things get to be near capacity.

Great GoogaMooga Festival of 2012

It seemed like a great summer festival - billed as an amusement park of food, drink, and music - with food trucks and restaurants, toasting the taste of the city. Tickets sold out early. Unfortunately, so did the food. The event planners underestimated the amount of food needed to service the crowd. Some suppliers ran out by 3 pm on the first day. Lines were long and in the reserved dining area an actual fist-fight broke out over the last bite of fried chicken. The organizers ended up refunding every VIP ticket.

Free Range Speaker

Okay, so this one is not exactly about an unprepared event planner but it was a good lesson learned for Rebecca Turner from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. After having multiple pre-event calls and planning sessions, a walk-thru the day of, and plenty of interaction with the keynote, he still vanished shortly before he was set to go on. After minutes of panic, she found him. He said he merely needed to collect his thoughts.

Lesson learned. Let them collect their thoughts in a green room. You know where they are and they can still get the quiet they need.

DashCon 2014

This was a convention for microblogging fans of the Tumblr site and another example of bad things that can happen when amateurs take the helm. It started out successfully enough with a crowdfunded venue but things went downhill from there when 1,500 people saw the reality of the event not meet up with marketing promises. There was a dismal showing of vendors and the much raved about ball pit was just an inflatable pool filled with a few balls in the center of the room.

Things only got worse when the organizers came into the room in a panic claiming that the hotel was insisting upon $17,000 by 10 o’clock. The organizers asked attendees to pony up more money and many of them did. Crisis averted until speakers started showing up and realized they weren’t going to get paid. Many of them pulled out, including the headliner. The crowd got angry and the organizers eventually refunded the PayPal payments but cash payers were out of luck.

In Conclusion

Wishing and hoping isn’t enough for a strong event and there are things that newbie planners just can’t be prepared for. Event planning is not a career for the uninitiated amateur or the meek. But by understanding the problems faced by others you may be more apt to better prepare yourself for disasters. After all, these things are only humorous when they happen to others.

about the author

Christina Green
Christina R. Green is a digital storyteller and writer for associations and businesses, including journals such as the Midwestern Society of Association Executive's magazine and industry blogs. She's a voracious reader but has been known to stop reading if there are too many exclamation points used.
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