Bird PR

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If you’re a brand, what to do at SXSW?

March 13, 2012

By Alice Chan

Clients always ask what they should be doing at “South by” Interactive, so fresh off the experience I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on how to maximize exposure.

SXSW offers a unique experience to mingle with your fans and followers and build real, in-person relationships with evangelists. If you’ve never been to SXSW the best way I can describe it is a lowbrow version of TED meets spring break on the streets of Austin. The attendees are entrepreneurs and brands along with their customers, developers and investors, all sharing their ideas and intent on partying ’til they drop.


The net effect is (mildly organized) chaos. This is not the place to go if you want to be assured of high quality content at every panel or serious, quiet business conversations. But it is the place to go…

–  If you are trying to attract a Gen Y or Millenial crowd to your product/service, you’ll find them here by the thousands. They like to eat, stay up all night and get free stuff, so bear this in mind when planning. They are most likely taste makers among their friends and peers, so turning them into evangelists will pay off.

–  If you really want to make an impact because your target audience (consumers, developers, investors) is going to be at SXSW, be prepared to spend some serious marketing dollars: propose a panel or three, co-sponsor a party, put a street team out there, host a private dinner for influencers, etc.

–  While some companies, like Highlight which had just launched, and Instagram, which announced its Android app was coming (not that strong of a news story), did break news at the event, to me, it didn’t seem that having a launch or something new to say was huge currency. More important seemed to be sharing visions, inspiring ideas, or even teaching people how to do things.

–  While there are thousands of panels, the hot ones really standout. If you’re a lesser-known startup, think about inviting a well-known journalist to moderate your panel along with bigger companies in your space. The halo effect will be worth the trade-off for sharing the limelight. Be edgy and provocative with your panel submission – that’s what this crowd is looking for.

–  If you’re target is developers, hackathons and intense conversations about the possibility of app development were often well attended and created a great opportunity to get people hands-on with your product.

–  Chevy – not a brand you’d typically associate with this crowd – got some serious good will with its fleet of 35 ‘Catch a Chevy‘ cars that drove around town for free – you could flag them down like cabs, or even sign up to drive yourself.

–  Journalists get overloaded, so if you want to host a private dinner or lunch, or set up a briefing, do it well in advance.

–   Saturday night was all “see and be seen” parties while Sunday seemed to be more about ‘hangover’ brunches and BBQs, although the FourSquare and Path parties amped this back up again later in the night. And the fact it had finally stopped raining helped.

–  People get very tired after the first couple of days – beyond the usual coffee lounges, I gotta believe this offers a rich source of creative ideas.

–  Bad weather can really mess up any street team or outdoor venues so be sure you have a plan B.

Bottom line: SXSW is not for every brand, but if it fits your marketing strategy it can help build and sustain some real buzz.

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Top Takeaways from SXSW 2013 | EM Marketing:   [...] wondering whether SXSW is the place for you to invest marketing dollars, I still stand by what I wrote last [...]

Pam Radgowski:   Great blog, Alice! Fri/Sat were definitely party time and it slowed way down after that. It was also definitely more …