Apr 23, 2013

The SXSW Cycle and Survival

Maybe you’re a marketing person, an entrepreneur or just a person really interested in  totally overwhelming conference experiences, SXSW is probably on your agenda.

SXSW emulates this massive wave, sucking up energy from all things tech and culture for months leading up the event, only to crest and crash in a loud chaotic mess on Austin, TX in March. In reality, the event is so large, it’s something we’re working “around” all year long.

The SXSW planning cycle:

Post SXSW Spring :

  • Complete brain drain followed by SXSW recap meetings and post-press analysis.

  • Answer questions from your executive team about hotel room cost, activation opportunities, what others did and what we could do better.

Summer time:

  • Focus on all things not SXSW, recharge and enact fun creative strategies.

  • Have a discussion about Not doing SXSW followed by a discussion entitled: Maybe we should book rooms now?


  • We should start discussing SXSW budget and really look into booking hotels

  • Should we get our own lounge venue for a week?


  • Next year budget planning sparks the big question: “Did we book rooms yet?”

Late Winter:

  • Shit, What are we putting on our SXSW Mini site? What’s the budget and theme  again?

Tips to Survive SXSW and keep on improving.

Tame the Guerilla:

SXSW is synonymous with “Guerilla Marketing”. It’s really taken to extremes in Austin with companies spending a good portion of $1M to produce elaborate, multi-day installations complete with custom built vehicles, you name it. These can be very impactful, powerful foils for your brand if done “right”. Just make sure your “activation” actually connects you with customers and scales with your business and objective. If you’re there to close deals, do something small. If you’re there to drive volume downloads on your app, go a bit bigger. If you’re pepsi, buy a city block and hire Justin Timberlake.

Pay the Piper:

It’s hard to imagine the nice people behind SXSW, an event that actually utilizes crowdsourcing and celebrates creativity, going after free-loaders using the SXSW brand to launch the next big thing, but they do, and rightfully so. After working at SXSW for a couple years as a full-time staffer, you quickly understand this is an organization dedicated to creating a unique and highly valuable experience for attendees. The brand juice associated with that experience is immense and should be filtered through the proper SXSW channels to limit the chaos to some sort of sane threshold. Find a way to work through the event to produce your initiative and your event will absolutely be more successful.  Having SXSW in your corner is a big help.

Have Appropriate Goals:  (it’s about connections)

The SXSW Success metric should look something like this:

*New People Met social network interactions

x % increase in social engagements


reactions to original content created  x emails garnered through content publishing 

= Potential infographic for the masses showing your awesomeness long lasting, ongoing brand engagements

*Customers, Potential customers, inspirational characters, colorful characters

Obviously, I’m not a mathematician, but put this on the wall at MIT and I bet the marketing version of Will Hunting would get it.

Connect with Clients:

Chances are you’ll be competing with other organizations and people to meet with your clients and important contacts. Make it easy and appealing to connect. Have several “meet ups” making it optional to drop in for a catch up. Eventually you’ll make that meeting and

Stalk your favorite companies and E-Celebs:

SXSW is a pretty amazing opportunity to ask your technorati crush that question you’ve always wanted to ask them. Chances are, you’ll find said nerd approachable and happy to chat. Just be patient (but persistent).

Stay Sane by producing content.

Stay limber and somewhat sober: It’s easy to over-do it in Austin. If you’re producing  multiple events and hitting others’ events to-boot, keep some simple goals in mind like, “I need to be in hotel room by 12:30 SHARP to produce some decent content for the next day”. I spent years not following this advice and finally found the content production angle to be not only centering, but a fun way to share your experience and share knowledge. It’s a huge that producing content on the ground at SXSW serves as fantastic archive for next years SXSW planning shenanigans.

Thanks, and see you in Austin in that magical month of March, where worlds collide, weather wreaks havoc and the chaff and the wheat are crushed together in a delicious techno-social taco. (with a vegan shell)