I’m finally starting to get my legs back underneath me after being home for a full week following my nine day marathon in Austin for the 2012 SXSW Interactive and Music conference. As I mentioned in my previous post previewing the event, my plan was to attend SXSW Interactive in a work capacity and then take some vacation time for SXSW Music.
I’m not going to go on a deep dive on any one specific topic here nor will I write about my lessons learned should I go back next year (like the imperative to bring comfortable shoes or a portable battery charger for the iPhone). There were some highlights, some lowlights and some just silly observations (like this or this or this). It was a time for inspiration, networking, validation and just having fun. All-in-all I had a fantastic time and as weird as it sounds I was a bit sad to leave Austin even after spending more than a week in the city during its most crowded time of the year.
As a SXSW Interactive newbie in 2012 and a SXSW Music veteran, I thought I’d share some things that stood out to me during my time in the great state of Texas.
- I attended somewhere around 20 different session over the five days of SXSW Interactive – I won’t go in detail here on the ones I attended but if you want to hear about them then drop me a line. One of the common themes that kept emerging to me was the importance of having a strong, objective moderator during the panel discussions. The strongest panels featured moderators that knew how to manage multiple speakers, knew how to guide the conversation and weren’t afraid to ask tough questions when needed. I’m sorry to say that there were a couple panels where the moderator merely served as an enthusiastic cheerleader for the panel participants themselves. (My exception to this comment is if the moderator is Jimmy Fallon, then anything goes.)
If before SXSW took place I told you that one of the leading digital brands and stories coming out of the conference would have been Nike, would you have believed me? This was something that my friend and Wunderman planning director Mike Reeder talked about while we were hanging out at the conference. (Check out some of Mike’s thoughts on SXSW courtesy of Wunderman Reports.) With its focus on Nike+ and the FuelBand, the brand that has been known for shoes, basketball, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and the swoosh, is now talking about wellness apps and opening up APIs for developers. This would have been unheard of coming from a brand like Nike five years ago.
- I’ve read a lot about the commercialization over the last several years at SXSW and without a doubt it has turned into a huge marketing event, Brands of all shapes and sizes from various industries produce events and concerts in hopes of reaching the litany of “influencers” that attend SXSW. My recommendations for brands that want to use SXSW as a platform is this: go big or go home. In my opinion, there is so much noise in the system down at SXSW that if a brand wants to stand out then they have to produce a significant event presence that also fits with their brand. The brands that fit this bill for me were the activations from Chevy, Whole Foods and Nike.
- I’m not going to get into the ridiculousness that was the marketing presence put on by Doritos. I’ll just tease you with this description: six-story-tall Doritos vending machine.
THE MOMENTS OF SERENDIPITY
- One of things that I especially loved about this year’s trek to Austin was some random and fun moments that came out of nowhere. Whether it was walking down the street and randomly running into friends from Minneapolis, to finally meeting someone in real life that I’ve known online for years, to walking down the street and unexpectedly hearing one of my favorite bands (Lucero) playing a free concert, Austin was filled of fun moments like this that made me smile over and over again.
- Instead of going into too much detail on the rest of the concerts that I saw, I’ll give props to my better half who wrote up a great recap of our musical adventures from the week. I recommend giving it a read.
- Since I knew that I was going to be running around and on the go for nine days straight, I tried to maintain a decent diet. I found excellent sit down meals at the woodfire pizza restaurant The Backspace and from the farm-to-table focused Hillside Farmacy. But when it came down to it some of the best items were found at food trucks such as Patika Coffee, Backstage Grill and the Eastside Drive-In. And as far as barbecue goes, this year’s best find by far was Franklin Barbecue.
If you attended SXSW this year or in years past please do chime in and let me know what you fondly (or not so fondly) recall from your experiences in Austin.
(Photos courtesy of creative common license from PDX Diver, Aaron Hockley and Automotive Rhythms. Concert photography used with permission from Shuttersmack Photography + Design. Barbecue menu board courtesy of my Instagram feed.)