Five days, hundreds of sessions, dozens of unique brand activations and a lot of delicious TexMex and BBQ – this year’s SXSWi has wrapped but we’re still reeling from all the great things we experienced on the ground in Austin.
If you weren’t on the ground (or couldn’t get to everything while you were there), here’s our rundown on the best SXSWi had to offer attendees this year.
“Most Inspiring Reason to Create and Innovate” – President Obama’s Keynote Address: “The reason I’m here is to recruit all of you,” President Obama remarked. He called on SXSW attendees to collaborate on solutions for the country’s biggest problems addressing everything from updating obsolete federal networks to the debate over security versus privacy most recently ignited by the disputes between Apple and the FBI. If you were a lucky SXSW attendee to score a ticket to his address, you probably left Austin wondering how we can move innovation forward to improve our country for the better.
“Best Brand Experience” – IBM Cognitive Experience: A mix of educational, aspirational, innovation and fun content, IBM created an engaging experience (in partnership with George P. Johnson, a Project WorldWide agency) centered around IBM’s Watson. Upon entering the space, attendees were prompted to input details about th
eir mood and taste preferences, then given a wrist band and sent on their way to experience different stations tied to IBM’s latest innovations and partnerships, including The Weather Company’s latest innovations and Under Armour’s new offering in IoT. SXSW attendees could even play ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ against an IBM robot who got smarter with every move. Or if you wanted to burn a few BBQ calories, you could try some virtual reality cycling. At the end of the experience, attendees were invited to enjoy a “cognitive drink” based on the data in your wristband. Robot bartenders are now a thing – this is the future!
“Best Place to Run into a Trekkie” – The Eyes of Robots and Murders Session: Legendary director/producer/screenwriter J.J. Abrams and his friend Andrew Jarecki, the writer/director of HBO’s “The Jinx” spoke about how technology has changed filmmaking for the better and how it has democratized the creative process. Abrams was also quick to point out that technology should be invisible so that the consumer can have an experience that’s as effortless as possible. Ending with a bit of inspiration, Abrams and Jalecki asked that attendees leverage their talents and today’s technology to create: “There’s no excuse to not tell the story we want to tell.”
“Best Off the Track Event” – Brand Innovators Austin Summit: Brand Innovators brought a great mix of speakers and content to SXSW attendees. From Mark Cuban speaking about the future of sports and sharing his candid feelings about the U.S. elections, to leading marketers from Mondelez, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Visa and much more – the venue was packed as any room in the convention center. A particular favorite panel was one featuring Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer moderating a panel with recording artist Kevin Jonas, actor Adrian Grenier, Johnson & Johnson’s Amy Pascal, and social media stars Monica Church and Shonduras. The lively discussion centered on how brands can best leverage celebrities to promote their brands on social media while still maintaining authenticity with millennials and other consumers.
“Best Place to Find a New Gig” – MEC Job Fair: Our client MEC took a new approach to attracting talent at this year’s SXSW. The media agency transported its New York office culture to the event through three virtual reality films which gave prospective talent an immersive glimpse into what it’s like to work there. Using Google Cardboard, the first film focused on the agency’s digital teams, highlighting social media operations and some creative work they’ve made. Another showed off the agency’s culture, and the third film highlighted the agency’s creative moments.
“Coolest Executive” – a tie between Soulcycle Cofounders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. Soulcycle’s cofounders just oozed cool, but they definitely had a lot to offer to SXSW attendees. With Fast Company moderating their fireside chat, they addressed the characteristics that make up their brand DNA and how they were able to innovate in the fitness space – (surprise!) it wasn’t with technology but by creating a community for their consumers. Our friends at Fast Company also interviewed Under Armour’s CEO, where he provided one of festival’s best soundbites: “Data is the new oil. The companies that do well are the companies that use math.”
“Best Celebrity Panel” – New Rules of Social Stardom Session: Kerry Washington and InStyle Magazine hosted a discussion on the ever-evolving role that social media plays in the life of celebrities. Though she’s more of a private person, Washington talked about how she interacts with social herself versus when she taps a communications team, the types of content she likes to share (mainly fashion shots and causes she’s passionate about) and the value that lies in NOT reading the comment section: “It’s a tricky balance. For the most part, I stay away from comments, but Twitter is a conversation, so I do occasionally engage…but I’ve realized that comments are not about me. When someone comments, they are revealing something about themselves.”
“Best App Launch at Southby” – Kodak Moments: To launch its new visual storytelling app, Kodak Moments, Kodak Alaris (in partnership with Junior, a Project: WorldWide agency) created an activation that immersed attendees in their own memories – practically seeing, smelling and even hearing them – in a chamber it called the “Memory Observatory.” How did it work? Upon entering the chambers, participants saw whatever memory-specific image they chose to share projected on a grand scale within the activation, and the colors, smells and sounds corresponded to the emotion in something the brand called an “experience guide.” Robbie Whiting, co-founder of Junior, spoke with Adweek about why SXSW was the best place to launch the app: “SXSW is chaotic. We wanted to create a respite from the noise, a place for meaningful moments from the process of remembering a moment to the articulation of what makes that moment special to the communal experience of all our deconstructed memories, our own Kodak Moments.”
“Best Place to Go If You’re Craving San Fran Vibes” – Mashable House: From a Pied Piper Bar (shout out to fans of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) and fun meme-inspired temporary tattoos to mingling with CEO Pete Cashmore. Upon entering this space, you were transported to the Bay City. Mashable had several parties and events at the space as well which put a spotlight on different brands and influencers – definitely making this a go-to place during the days and nights during Southby.
“Best Party at SXSWi” – GSD&M: Touted as one of SXSW’s must-attend events each year, we were lucky enough to get an invite and so glad we did. From unique art and live music to delicious food trucks and specialty cocktails – our last night in Austin was well spent on our GSD&M client’s compound.
South by Southwest Panel Picker is here again, and it’s another opportunity for great insights, learnings, and dynamic industry leaders to come together. We at DGC have submitted two topics for the PanelPicker and if selected, it would be our first time to appear on the SXSW stage. The sessions highlight our unique approach to business and how these ideas have helped us grow since our founding in 2006.
Over the years we’ve learned a lot about attracting and retaining the very best talent in the PR industry, especially how to keep pace with an evolving workforce and offer more flexible work schedules and environments. As such, our first session is “Conducting Business in a Flex World.” will share best practices on how to retain talent when employees embark on major life events such as marriage, pregnancy, family-care issues or relocation that can potentially make them leave their jobs. Included in the session will be our CEO Sam DiGennaro and our President Howard Schacter, who will share insights on how to create a flexible work environment that allows for flexibility but still encourages growth and maintains your company culture.
Our second session, “Brand Me Please: Personal Branding 101,” looks at how executives can build their brands to align with personal values. DGCers will conduct a live demonstration of a branding session, taking members of the audience and teaching them the basic skills to sell themselves. The “jury” will be comprised of both DGC executives, those from other agencies as well as wardrobe and body language specialists. The winner will get a trip to NYC for a Personal Branding boot camp at DGC headquarters.
We appreciate your votes for these sessions, and your willingness to share thoughts in the comments section. Hope to see you in Austin!
We in public relations do a lot of writing. Sometimes, that writing is on behalf of someone else so the session The Real Art & Economics of Ghostwriting – featuring NYT best-selling author/celebrity ghostwriter Joni Rodgers – sounded like it could provide some good insights on how to become a better ghostwriter.
Important to note that the session was focused on ghostwriting of books which isn’t something that generally falls into the scope of a PR person but the trials and tribulations of nailing someone else’s voice, establishing efficient processes and creation of content people care about are the same, no matter the output.
One thing that struck me about Joni was her caring, motherly nature. Driven in part by her sharing the stage with her daughter and business partner, Jerusha Rodgers, but also by the genuine compassion she demonstrated for the clients she has collaborated with.
They talked a lot about the concept of humility and abandonment and that you must be completely comfortable with not being the sage on the stage to find happiness in ghostwriting. This concept also wasn’t lost on me as it relates to PR – often we’re the people working hard behind-the-scenes to shine a light on our clients.
Joni’s first piece of advice to budding ghostwriters was to write a book yourself first so you fully understand the process. The second alluded to flexibility and working with your client on their terms – ensuring they’re in their natural habitat to maximize creativity and a good working relationship. Jerusha talked about a strong agreement upfront behaving like a moat: of course there is a bridge but the water provides a barrier, allowing you to control the process and stay safe.
Here are the three things Jerusha and Joni look for when assessing whether to take on a project or not:
- Storytelling ability. Can the person tell a story?
- Style compatibility. Many partnerships fall apart because of a mismatch of style, not personality.
- Do they have the skill to turn out a feasible project?
The last bit I wanted to touch on is Joni’s commentary around content. She pointed out that it’s easy to fall in love with someone’s “story” but that doesn’t necessarily make for a riveting book.
Asking what is the point of telling the story, why will people care, why will they care right now and what the larger meaning is all help in the decision-making process. The decision on format – the use of flashbacks, vignettes, etc. – is also key to helping structure the project. All questions us PR folk ask every day when it comes to pitching the media and indeed, in the creation of thought leadership content on behalf of our clients.
You can check out the books Joni has penned (including Sugarland, Love and Other Natural Disasters and Nancy G. Brinker’s Promise Me) here: http://www.jonirodgers.com/#!work/c1pen
DGC is officially on the ground at this year’s SXSW Interactive and it’s already been a busy couple of days of meetings, sessions, music, client catchups, reporter briefings and of course, parties.
My topline takeaway so far (and I’m not tapped into whether official attendance levels are down from years past) is that the whole experience feels much more manageable this year.
There are of course the same logistical challenges of transport, lines to get into events, etc. but there have been only a handful of sessions I’ve wanted to go to that I couldn’t get into and there has been ample space to decompress and work along with ample power outlets (I haven’t run out of charge yet!). Here are some of the trends we’re seeing emerge this year:
- Privacy is front-and-center: There’s been a lot of talk about privacy, being driven in part by the industry’s focus on personalization and data but also controversial and heavily promoted feature presentations from Julian Assange (hosted by The Barbarian Group) and Edward Snowden (a discussion between Snowden and Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist) who skirted U.S. law by engaging in their discussions virtually. As we’ve seen in many recent industry conferences, people are talking a lot about privacy but are playing it safe- they’re saying it’s important but are talking less about how to navigate it and statements seem almost circular.
- Be there, but be smart about it: We’re seeing less of the enormous, splashy brand presences than in year’s past (like the three-house Google Village in Rainey Street from SXSWi 2012.) Notably, Foursquare turned their decision to not have an official presence at this year’s SXSWi into PR by responding to Adweek’s Chris Heine and the WSJ reported Snapchat and WhatsApp would be no-shows. There are certainly branded “houses” encouraging punters to experience a company’s brand such as Funny or Die’s takeover of Lustre Pearl, Yahoo’s space at Brazos Grill and AT&T’s The Mobile Movement activation but they all feel very sensible and experiential vs. going for enormous scale and pure stunt value.
- Where is the wearable? Lots of chatter about wearable technology and its potential but on the whole it’s been tell, not show. Perhaps that will change once the exhibition hall opens but there’s been fewer sightings of Google Glassers than we expected. The question remains: is wearable still ahead of its time?
- You can make, but can you run a business? There have been a lot of sessions focusing on corporate culture, operations and staying happy. SXSWi is a conference with an eye firmly on innovation, creating and making but the convergence of the startup world and general business seems to be driving more discussion around “staying power” and how to run a company efficiently with an eye on the long term. It feels like a natural exchange of expertise: startups are teaching corporations to be more agile and corporations are teaching entrepreneurs the benefits of a little structure and direction for lasting success.
- Shhhh: This observation could go in two directions – 1) people trying desperately to escape the crowds and quieten the noise and 2) apps like Secret and Whisper helping people create inner circles. Avoid Humans, an app that utilizes Foursquare data created by Austin-based GSD&M, is indicative of the former as attendees (and locals) try desperately to create pockets of zen amongst the chaos. The latter is an extension of the trend behind Google+, Path, and the like: Intimacy is key and the smaller meetings, discussions and events are the ones people are really valuing.
We’ll be sharing some outtakes of some of the most interesting sessions and activations we’ve been seeing in the coming days, so stay tuned!
SXSW isn’t just for music, tech and movies. In the last four years, it has increasingly become a hotbed of marketing and communication activities with big brands spending big dollars. This year was no different – there were dazzling parties, free swag, and utility-based activations like Oreo-branded pedicabs.
Many brands had a memorable impact. But as we reflected on our experience at SXSWi 2013, we were surprised that our standout marketing moment happened miles away from the action downtown, in the back of an Austin cab en route to the airport.
Outside of our hotel we flagged down a cab, and the driver, Bob, told us he was on his way to pick up someone also going to the airport and that we could share the ride if we wanted to. “Sure!” we said. A huge favor from Bob. After a few minutes of listening to the music playing in the cab, we inquired about the artist.
Gemma: “Who’s singing this song? I like it!”
Bob: “Oh, it’s this guy, Josh Halverson. He’s a local musician who was a passenger in my cab a year or so ago. Do you want one of his CDs?”
Bob gave us both a copy of Josh’s CD, on the condition that we like Josh’s Facebook page and comment on his wall to let Josh know we received it from Bob. We’d heard enough of the music to decide that Josh deserved a “like,” and did so right there in the cab as we were chatting. Bob handed us a business card so we could credit his name correctly and before we knew it, we had followed Bob on Twitter and were chatting about his blog, “Confessions of an Austin Cabbie” and his personal Twitter strategy.
The beauty of this moment was that Bob let us discover the music he was playing in the cab. He didn’t push it, he just played it and let us decide for ourselves whether or not we liked it. With a simple word-of-mouth recommendation, Bob earned our social currency and this column space on The Hit Board. He also helped PR his buddy Josh (not a paid arrangement) in the process.
It speaks to a trend many SXSW attendees noticed – the need for a more personal touch in an always-on digital world. As we neared the airport, Bob pointed out that it was hard for him to see out of the back window because it was covered with a big white sticker – some kind of outdoor branding. Which company had paid good money for this window space? Who knows? We certainly didn’t notice – or care. The real “cab-vertising” moment happened inside the car.
Signing off for this year!
What’s the reward for getting up early for my first SXSW Salon? A free mimosa and a pair of bright orange sunglasses. Oh, and GEEKSTA PARADISE: The Ballers of Uber, Airbnb + Github. First up, Dave McClure (of 500 Startups) sat on the stage with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the overarching theme of their chat was innovating in the face of strict legislation.
Many startups are born of the desire to solve a problem and Uber is no different – the company coins itself as the future of transportation. They’re currently active in 28 cities and although they’re a darling of the tech startup scene they’re not so popular with local governments and cabbies, having been accused of illegal taxicab operation.
Kalanick cites the city’s resistance to embracing Uber as protecting an incumbent industry through anti-competitive measures. To launch Uber in Austin, the drivers have to charge 20 times the taxi rate. In Denver, the cars wouldn’t be allowed to operate downtown or charge by distance and Uber would have to own all the cars that provide the transportation – an unsustainable model.
Kalanick was asked about Side Car which is regularly heralded as one of Uber’s low cost competitors and the message was the same: Side Car is Uber, but with unlicensed drivers. It keeps the cost down, but there’s certainly more controversy and the long-term sustainability is questionable. While he stated that there has to be a low cost Uber, it is at the mercy of the law.
The philosophy of open source is the opposite innovation-crippling red tape and we’re hearing more and more about entrepreneurs having to engage a two pronged approach of being creative within legislative parameters, and lobbying to extend or even remove those parameters. Member numbers give weight to this lobbying, as does strategic PR that places your issue firmly on the public agenda.
It’s nice to see the content extend outside downtown Austin with a livestream feed. You can catch the replay at The Lean Startup SXSW site or sift through the Salon’s Twitter hashtag for key takeaways.
Our Friday Feature usually recaps some of our clients’ best media coverage of the previous week. This week, we want to draw attention to the good work our clients are planning at SXSW Interactive. In other words, the second most important voting event of 2012 is upon us: the SXSW PanelPicker 2013!
A number of our clients are vying for a spot on the stage at SXSW Interactive 2013, and even our very own DGC executive team has thrown their hats into the ring with two panel ideas.
The SXSW Festival has increasingly become one of the most popular events of the year among the advertising, music and film industries. The event uses a crowd-sourced format to populate the speaker sessions, along with input from the event’s advisory board and SXSW staff.
The process for voting is simple. First, you have to sign up for a SXSW account, if you don’t already have one. After you’ve signed up, search/vote for any and all of your favorite panel ideas by hitting “thumbs up!” Voting closes August 31 at 11:59pm CT. Take a look below at a roundup of a number of great sessions you definitely don’t want to miss.
DGC – Building Buzz for Your Company via PR & Social
In this session, learn the basic steps to create buzz among your target audience. Hear practical and actionable guidelines from Sam DiGennaro, communications strategist and founder of DiGennaro Communications, the leading PR agency serving the advertising, media, marketing and entertainment spaces. Sam has been an integral force in managing the public image and strategic messaging of well-known C-suites, in addition to serving as counselor to many independent companies on the road to acquisition.
Learn how to use PR & social media to get news coverage in today’s complex media marketplace, align PR strategy with new-biz goals, raise an exec’s profile, recruit A-list talent & establish category expertise.
DGC – How Your Personal Brand Makes Your Company Shine
It is critical today for business leaders to build and manage their personal brands. A CEO’s brand can add incredible value to an organization as a whole. In this age of social media and self-published content, smart business execs must position themselves as thought leaders for industry “street cred” and to raise their companies’ profiles. In this session, former Forbes Executive Editor Melanie Wells explains the value of developing a strong personal brand and shares “inside” tips on how to craft a compelling one.
MEC – Is Big Still Beautiful?
Can and how do big agencies and small agencies partner with start-ups effectively?
In today’s changing landscape, big and small tech and media companies equally have an opportunity to partner with big name brands to create transformative marketing programs for consumers and clients – but is that really true? Is that really happening?
RAPP – E-tymology. How Digital Decimated the Dictionary
OMG. OMG is an official word. Mankini is in the Oxford English Dictionary. FOMO, tablet, and occupy have been nominated for Word of the Year. In this session, we explore the dramatic changes in language over the last decade, unprecedented in human history. And we ask educators, anthropologists and linguists: WTF?
RAPP – Graphic Design: Data Is The New Vector
Data has become the new fodder for design. As we become a more mobile focused on the go consumer of data, interface design is taking a back seat to data design. My discussion will focus on how to design around data, for data and with data as a means to influence interface design. Harnessing the power of data and being creative with the types of data that is available can be one of the most creative endeavors one can undertake. Designers now must think beyond just the aesthetic and move into the realm of big data and creative ways to design with it.
Organic –The Endless Aisle
The future of retail lies in the intersection of online, mobile and in-store behaviors and experiences — what we call “the endless aisle.” Think real-world purchase experiences that build off real-time data and stores that know you. Future retailers will suggest products that may best fit personal styles, or even help navigate through stores better. Consumers have become more educated than ever before, with the ability to check prices on the fly. This session will give a glimpse into the store of the future, and spell out the big opportunity for brands and emerging technologies in the retail space.
Organic – Kiss Cash Goodbye
Rumors of cash’s death are very real. Consumers have made clear their interest in going cashless — with major marketers beginning to reap the rewards. But there are still barriers to entry. The mobile payment space is highly fragmented and consumer trust in new technologies must still be established. This panel will give an overview of the mobile payment landscape –from major players to emerging companies — and insights about consumers’ behavior around mobile payment. It will outline the big opportunity for brands in mobile payments, and show how going cashless will go from mere concept to reality.
Wing – El Nuevo Gringo: Quantifying the Latino Influence
Latino influence on American culture is hard to miss. From food to fashion to entertainment, Americans are embracing Latino culture like never before. But evidence of that influence has always been solely anecdotal — until now. In this panel, Wing and Experian Simmons will reveal the results of a first-ever study quantifying this phenomenon, The Latino Influence Project. Panelists will demonstrate how non-Hispanics are taking on more and more traditionally Hispanic attitudes and behavior when it comes to food, travel, technology use, and media consumption. Attendees will walk away with stats about the changing consumer landscape and ideas for engaging Hispanic and non-Hispanic audiences alike.
Hyper Marketing Inc. – Mind Space, Digital Space, Shelf Space
Connecting with your audience is one part art, one part science. It begins with understanding your customers’ behavior (which reflects their needs and wants), sparking consideration for your product or service, and then converting that progression from mind space to digital space to shelf space to a sale and ultimately back again. That’s what it takes for marketers to win today.
Carbone Smolan – Video That Connects
No matter the product you’re launching or service you’re selling, it’s your goal to spark the interest of customers and inspire action. You need to connect with your audience, whether its buyers, recruits, internal teams or investors. What’s the best way to do this? Storytelling through video.
Cole & Weber – Project Butterfly: Escaping the Net to Be Sociable
Just being in social media and accumulating “likes” doesn’t make brands sociable.
So we set out to understand how sociable people interact in the real world, and apply that learning to help brands behave differently. Project Butterfly is a multi-city, online and offline project that merges social psychology, digital anthropology and cutting edge ethnography to dissect the DNA of highly sociable people, how they behave both on and offline, and how they differ from “hyperconnectors” – people who are extremely active on social media.
Favorite Brand Activation: Tie between Amex and Chevy
Why? Both provided true value to even the most grizzled SXSW veterans. In Chevy’s case, its “Catch a Chevy” program gave those of us with barking dogs and a waning patience for expensive shuttle service a comfy ride to off-campus panels. Amex’s promotion showed us that simply having an Amex and a willingness to Tweet on behalf of brands spells big rewards for cardholders – like exclusive tickets to a Jay-Z show. While two lucky DGC-ers were in line to see Jay in a 2,000-person venue, we heard more than one person say, “I’m so glad I have an Amex.” Now that’s brand loyalty.
With Pinterest’s skyrocketing popularity, it’s not surprising that curation was one of the week’s “buzziest” terms. In the publishing world, the debate was about how to give credit where it’s due, to both authors and the curators themselves. For brands, the question is how to either become curators, or integrate seamlessly into a user’s curating experience. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the future.
Also big this year was talk of how advertising should embrace a tech start-up culture – the Mark Zuckerberg “move fast and break things” philosophy. This means less and less of “the big idea” and many more small, nimble ideas. As ad exec Tim Leake put it: advertising in these times is no longer about telling a story, but inspiring one, listening to the conversation about your brands and saying – to borrow terms from Leake’s improv background – “yes…and” to that idea.
With all the foot traffic in downtown Austin, the restaurants were almost as hard to get into as the packed early morning marketing sessions (and they were packed this year – most had a one-in, one-out policy). Branded Today Show trucks were serving up delicious breakfast from renowned chef Danny Meyer throughout the day and night. And Whole Foods was in the right place, at the right time, with the right vegan chickpea sandwich when one DGC-er almost had a hunger meltdown.