10 Ways to Avoid Being the #SXSWorst

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  • March 8, 2016
  • Madison Scullin

In addition to delicious food from Chez Zee, February’s PRSA luncheon featured a panel of SXSW industry veterans who shared their insight into what it takes to make it big at SXSW. “Getting Creative at SXSW” panelists included tech and PR guru Laura Beck; SXSW Eco and SXgood executive director, Morgan Catalina; Austin American-Statesman technology culture writer, Omar Gallaga; and T3’s Chief Innovation Officer and panel moderator, Ben Gaddis.

This group of knowledgeable professionals shared their insight on best (and worst) SXSW practices. Whether you’re a seasoned SXSWer or a new brand on the block, read up on these tips to stand out at SXSW and avoid being the #SXSWorst.

1. Stay curious, and make downtown your playground

Don’t get caught up in the allure of one booth or event. Research panels and media presentations ahead of time so you can map out your days and absorb as much as possible (Pro tip: Study Omar’s guide to SXSW interactive to maximize your time). However, things can change at a moment’s notice, so be willing to ditch the plan and go with the flow. Keep an ear to the ground, RSVP to parties that offer the option to, and always have back-ups for bigger/more popular events.

2. Set expectations for your client and set them low

Embrace the adventure of SXSW, and don’t expect to schedule a long list of briefings for a client. Instead, plan on building your Rolodex at SXSW through brief, meaningful interactions with media. When it comes to media relations, SXSW is all about relationship building.

3. Keep an eye on media and influencers’ Twitter and Instagram accounts throughout the week to take advantage of quick networking opportunities

Media don’t want to work at night after a long day of SXSW. Omar, who is a 20-year SXSW media veteran, says unless your client is Jesse Jackson or someone he’s wanted to talk to for months, the possibility of scheduling a meeting with him is slim. Buy him a drink, however, and he’ll give you a few minutes.

4. Ditch the koozies, t-shirts, sunglasses, and bulky swag

Replace branded handouts with something people really want, like free food.

The last thing people want to do while embarking on a long day at SXSW is load up with junk they have to carry around. As Laura said, “People move for food.” Especially if that food can be delivered to you via tweeting #gimmepizza – something 7-Eleven tried out a few years back (the pizza chain unloaded two tons of pizza in two days with that one). Hangover survival kits are also a valuable commodity at SXSW. Omar fondly recalled Spredfast handing out bags with Emergen-C, lip balm, a pack of gum, and earplugs.

5. Whatever you do, do not launch a startup at SXSW

Your brand will get lost in the hustle and bustle of the festival and you might lose your chance at a successful grand opening. Meerkat tried, and Periscope swiped them away.

6. Don’t be “that guy” who gets drunk at all the shows and ditches the Keynotes and panels

As Laura said, “It’s a cultural event now and should be treated as such.” Plus, what better a way to collect relevant conversation topics for networking than attending the same keynotes as your media targets?

7. Stray away from any idea that traps people on a bus

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh spent SXSW 2012 riding the “Happiness Bus,” a bus filled with benches, light sabers, and booze. The problem? “Nobody wants to be trapped on a bus for hours downtown,” Omar said. People want to experience SXSW, not be trapped on a bus that breaks down on the way to its next destination (true story).

8. Take something ordinary and make it extraordinary to promote your brand. But be authentic.

Don’t turn your brand into something it isn’t at SXSW. In a city like Austin, authenticity resonates more than grandeur.

 9. Don’t try to raise awareness for a cause by exploiting a group of people

A couple of years back, BBH Labs tried launching “Homeless Hotspots,” a “charitable experiment” that involved turning homeless people into mobile hotspots, providing conferencegoers access to a 4G network in exchange for a donation. The backlash was widespread, with publications such as The New York Times and ABC News criticizing the marketing agency for exploiting a group of people who were down on their luck. Get creative with campaigns, but be sensitive.

10. Provide SXSW with honest feedback online

“We are the campaign for your dialogue, and we want to hear your success stories,” Morgan said. That’s why SXSW staff carefully reviews each individual survey, taking note of feedback to improve the conference each year.

Do you have any other tips for making the most of SXSW? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!