Before SXSW Interactive had even gotten a chance to take its first breath, media outlets like Mashable were already asking if it had jumped the Shark? The sentiment is understandable. After all these years, SXSW is still kind of enigma. Some call it a conference and others say its more of a festival. Some say this year's SXSW felt "somber" while others asserted that fresh break through technology such as MeerKat, reasserted its relevance as a place where new startups can get their footing and enchant early adopters in the process. Other's still question its value for marketers and agencies (tell that to senior ad execs like Tony Weisman and Bob Greenberg who mingled amongst the geeks).
The truth is, SXSW is what you make of it. If you want to go there and party all day and all night, you can do that. If you want to spend your time going from session to session to find golden nuggets of insights, you can do that too. If you want to network and explore business opportunities—you can also do that. It's not the size of SXSW that matters, it's how you make it work for you. In that vein, here are some of the ways I made SXSW work for me this year.
Finding Opportunities To Collaborate
SXSW has no shortage of tech companies, platforms or niche players that can make for interesting collaborators. This year I had great meetings with Hootsuite and Spredfast and MeerKat to plant seeds in some cases and in others explore specific opportunities. The face time you can get at SXSW is high quality and the casual setting makes relationship building easy.
Hosting An Intimate Business Function
Because SXSW can be so overwhelming—it's a great opportunity to create an intimate business environment where professionals can share thoughts and ideas in a salon like setting. This year, we teamed up with Jeremiah Owyang and Crowd Companies and hosted a combination of his council members and some of our clients for an insightful panel featuring executives from Whole Foods, Hallmark and Verizon. Business can be done at SXSW—you just have to plan for it.
Connecting With Colleagues, Clients & Friends
I'm cognizant that we have all three groups present at SXSW and I make it a point to distribute my time wisely during my few days. Several of our Edelman clients had activations this year and it was great to see how they were doing in real time, while building new client relationships in some cases and reinforcing existing ones. Likewise, many of our colleagues go, and it's a great way to bond with them outside of a formal session. And lastly, there are industry friends I get to see their once a year—a great way to catch up and compare notes.
For me personally, it's difficult to squeeze in panels with everything else but I usually manage to get a couple in. This year's highlight for me was Google's offsite "Fire Starters" panel which featured several speakers from the UX, creative and planning sides of the house. I finally got to see Russell Davies speak which was a treat, and in a setting where "new ideas" are prized, his take on "no new ideas" was a good reminder that brands need to work harder at getting the basics right.
Blowing Off Some Steam
I'm not going to lie—there are some great parties and activities at SXSW. This year I found myself on a dance floor listening to NAZ and in a stadium watching the Flaming Lips do what they do. I also went Spinning with a friend (first time I've ever done that). But the reality is that SXSW is not the only show in town when it comes to parties and entertainment—it goes with the territory and can be fun if you don't overdo it.