SXSW 2016 day 2: A PhotoArk, a president, self driving cars and more.

By Craig Markus, SVP/Executive Creative Director

I plan on learning as much as I can over the next few days so I can share it back. Here are a few things I’ve gleaned on days one and two of SXSW 2016:

The very first session I went to blew me away: New World of Photography and Visual Storytelling. Joel Sartore, a National Geographic photographer, is creating a “Noah’s Ark” of photography. His project is called PhotoArk and the ambition for beautifully photographing every species on the planet is as  humbling as the images are stunning.

Joel is putting the reach of modern media platforms (and by modern media platforms, National Geographic immense 250 million person social footprint) to work for his project. Note: Not a bad idea to use a partner like Nat Geo. They have the most followers of any non-celebrity on Instagram. And while it seems obvious in that we talk about partners, we need to act on it more. They have access and the trust of people we want to reach. Oh, and Joel uses a Nikon (a C-K client). Yes, we chatted.

Here’s what I learned in my next session: Choosing the right session isn’t always easy. There are a ton of choices at each hour. You do your best but you can go from something really inspiring to, well…just another session. And that’s what happened to me. The learning? If you’re in the wrong session, leave. It won’t hurt the speakers fault.

Before leaving for Austin, I entered the ticket draw for President Obama’s keynote. #Fail. But, another ECD, Chris Jacobs, did get in. He seemed rather non-plussed by the whole thing. But you’ll have to read his post later this week to see what he has to say. What I learned: Political views aside, Presidential motorcades are impressive. They just are.

They are almost as impressive as Google’s self driving car. “Everyone’s talking about self driving cars these days” the session description read. In my mind, if everyone is talking about it, I already doubt it’s all that. So, my cynicism was really excited to attend this session. When I hear the term  “Google self driving car,” All I can ever think of is Google finding yet another way to take over the world.  And the movie Sleeper (personally, I’d rather have the orb than the car). But what they are doing is really impressive. The technology is incredible but what impressed me more are the intentions for this project. With a clear mission to “improve people’s lives by transforming mobility” rather than to get into the automotive category. What I learned: Having a clear mission is critical. It’s easy to lose focus under demands of clients. Knowing why you get up every morning and push the boulder is the only way to make sure you are pushing it in the right direction. I would say this applies not just to crafting missions for our clients, but for ourselves as well.

Saturday morning started early and apparently it was #mobilesaturday. I hit a panel discussion titled Innovators or Idiots: Mobile’s Next Hits & Misses. I was impressed by all of the panelists, but particularly a woman named Suzy Ryoo who is the venture partner from the Atom Factory in LA. What I learned (beyond there are too many apps) came  from Suzy–she looks for investments that are a balance that appeals to consumer, enterprise and impact. She cited Thrive Market as an example. Thrive delivers healthy and organic food (think Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) at a 30 to 40 percent discount. It fits the bill for her because it helps society, helps consumers and builds a business.

Here’s a few other things I’ve learned since being here:

Not sure if you’ve heard but VR is gonna be HUGE (sarcasm). This is going to have a huge impact on our business (not sarcasm) as the distance between experience and purchase is going to be even shorter and literally right front of your eyes. We are a couple years away. There seems to be an agreement that the hardware for VR is not where it needs to be. But it’s coming. And, as usual, brands will be in a race to try and figure out how to be part of that experience. This, of course, led to a discussion of what we should do with the next big thing.

Last year’s Periscope and Meerkat is this years VR and Internet of Things (IoT). It’s natural to rush to figure out what’s next. Add to this dialogue: “we have to be on Snapchat,” “we have to be on Instagram,” “we have to be on Flipper” (There is no flipper. I made that up). I think the CEO of the New York Times, Mark Thompson summed it up pretty well: It’s not ‘all about any one thing, it’s all about everything. These are all platforms. Print is still a platform. So is gaming. And social. And TV. And VR. And and and and…. The learning here? It’s not about the next big thing, it’s about everything. We need to keep approaching our solutions for clients with a principle of ecosystem and connectivity. And we have to be relentless about it.