Three takeaways from SXSW 2018.

By Mary Gura

I was lucky to attend SXSW this year. It’s always filled with informational sessions, over-the-top experiential events, celebrities and influencers wandering the streets, and incredible food. Despite the thousands of attendees and hundreds of sessions, I identified three main takeaways from my time at the interactive conference.

1 – Look the Other Way

There are hundreds of sessions to pick from every day. What do you choose? The path that is more work related? Or the path that is jiving with your personal interests?

I had this exact conversation over dinner with a colleague. He admitted that he was torn between which types of sessions to attend – work or play? My response? Both.

This is what that makes SXSW so unique. No other conference has the variety of sessions at scale as SXSW. Sure, I attended sessions that were only relevant to work. I also attended sessions that sparked my personal interest. And, I attended sessions that don’t apply to work or personal interests. Why? Being curious opens your mind to topics that you don’t normally seek out that can spark inspiration and creativity. A good session is one where I walk away feeling inspired and ready to look at the world – whether work or play – differently.

2 – Influencers always draw a crowd

Elon Musk. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Melinda Gates. A-Rod.

These are just a handful of the celebrities who spoke at SXSW this year. Knowing that influencers are always a draw, how do other sessions compete?

This actually made me think about client situations. A client may not always be the leader in the category, so how do we elevate their voice to garner attention in a cluttered world?

I observed a few things:

  • Talk to people where they are at, like the SXSW app. Many sessions pushed reminders through the notifications tab and through the conference’s social channels. Attendees want to be communicated to through these vehicles and will be more open to your message.
  • Sponsored content: While looking at Facebook over breakfast, I was served sponsored content for sessions and event experiences. This prompted me to jot down a few places that I wanted to stop by, all thanks to relevant content and a targeted media buy.
  • Guerilla marketing: It takes five to seven times to see and/or hear a message before it resonates. From sidewalk chalk and reminders on my key card, to hotel drops and t-shirts, SXSW has it all to make the message click. Don’t underestimate any tactic because it all works together to create the larger story.

3 – Storytelling needs to be simple

At C-K, one of our roles is to plan and execute flawless branded events on behalf of our clients. As you wander through SXSW, there are so many incredible installations, takeovers and footprints on behalf of every type of brand you can imagine.

When I walk through these events, I immediately think about the months and months of planning, rounds of feedback, production costs, training and other behind-the-scenes work that goes into pulling off these experiences. It’s equivalent to building a mini city!

That’s why it pains me to hear people say, “I didn’t understand that place!” Or, “It’s too crowded!” Or, “Which brand did that? What does the brand do?”

Brands want to do an experience here because it’s right for so many reasons – target audience, influencer exposure, press exposure and social cachet – but it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture. During all that behind-the-scenes work, you cannot forget the brand story.

Who knows…maybe Elon or Arnold will swing by!