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Why No One Will ‘Win’ SXSW. We All Will.


Deep Focus CCO, Ken Kraemer’s guide on how to make the best of it

Why No One Will ‘Win’ SXSW. We All Will.

Everyone wants to know. Who will win SXSW this year? A new geofiltered millennial-focused messaging platform? A mobile first iBeacon integrated multichannel brand messaging system? Or a new native content play focused entirely on inter-species dating for dogs and cats? It’s hard to say. No one sees a SXSW ‘winner’ coming. 

Luckily, that question is as stupid as it is meaningless. Breaking through the clutter of what has become a flat-out spectacle to become the biggest thing out of Austin hasn’t meaningfully predicted anything about business success – or culture for that matter – ever. Just ask the folks at Foursquare. Oops, I mean Swarm.

Be that as it may, SXSW is a singular experience. Despite its unabashed annual exponential expansion, southby still has that feel that makes it the band camp for the digital crowd. So many geeks, just like me, geeking out together, frequently while drinking. Despite its population of square-toed loafer-wearing adtech reps. 

In this way, everyone wins at SXSW (which is maybe why its so popular with millennials?) So here is my brief and unscientific guide to how to make the best of it.

Creatives. We’re a jaded lot, so it is hard for us to look at everything at southby with an open mind. But beyond all the buzzwords and overproduced brand activations, there are a lot of smart, passionate people dying to tell you about what they’ve invented, to share their dreams with you. And that’s all good stuff you can make great things for your clients with. And by the way, experiencing something new that just might rekindle your imagination is how we become less jaded. For Creatives, winning = inspiration.

Brands. It’s too late to sponsor a lounge, activate a booth or put up a Lady Gaga concert. Which is a good thing, because people just using those brands for air conditioning, free lunch and free music. But brands can, in fact, get a foothold on what’s next, if met without constraints of what you’re already doing. You can see some great innovation for instance at the SXSW Accelerator Startup Competition sessions (  For brands, winning = perspective. (Thanks to Justin Johnson @justinmjohnson for this tip from last year.)

Panelists. We know you won the big panel picker lottery, beating out thousands of agency case studies disguised as innovation stories in panel format. So congrats, you disguised your case study better than anybody else. But really, we’re here to hear what you have to say, so tell us your story, don’t just agree with the other panelists, and mix it up. For panelists, winning = infotaining us.

Agencies. If you’re working the show for your client, you already know what winning looks like. But if you’re attending, remember this. Not everything excellent comes in the form of a brand message, and there’s a lot to be learned from the innovation happening outside of the agency world. For agencies attending, winning = getting beyond the ad.

Attendees. It’s easy to see this as a big boondoggle in the form of a tour of digital pleasures where everyone working the conference is there to serve your every whim. It isn’t. People working the conference are trying to advance interactive marketing and digital culture. People working the brand booths and lounges are trying to make brands more human. Both are worthy, and the people tend to be passionate. Enjoy the circus, but be nice, be open-minded, and meet as many people as you can. For attendees, winning = respect.

AdTech Reps. Buy everyone lots of drinks. Most of us don’t plan and buy media, but we do like drinks and we like you too because you buy us drinks. We also get that your technology is what gets a lot of our creative in front of the right people. So for you, winning = drinks.

So maybe you can win southby. And though winning means different things to different people these days, there’s one other way everyone can win. A colleague of mine calls it ‘collisions’ – the serendipitous interactions of like-minded or complementary minds that are only possible with proximity. There are a lot of collisions at southby – even beyond the vodka-fuelled ones that happen after the Edelman party. These kinds of collisions aren’t possible by Twitter, Snapchat or Skype. They need the energy and purpose of proximity to happen, and they’re where the magic happens. So seek them out. Meet someone new, get their point of view and try to sell them yours. If you can’t find someone, ping me. I’ll hear you out.

Because for everyone, winning = building relationships.

See you in Austin.

Ken Kraemer is CCO at Deep Focus

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