Brands bring their A game to SXSW

American Airlines and Warner Brothers are among the companies breaking out new marketing strategies at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival.

American Airlines and Warner Brothers are among the companies breaking out new marketing strategies at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, which they say is the year's can't miss opportunity to reach tech-savvy influencers.

American Airlines signed on as the official airline of South by Southwest this year. Previously, the company had partnered with organizations such as Startup America on one-off events at the festival.

Dawn Turner, sports and entertainment marketing manager for American Airlines, tells PRWeek that her company is using the festival to market the “new American Airlines.” The company, which has proposed a merger with US Airways as it emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, unveiled a major rebrand earlier this year.

“I find SXSW more of a scrappier festival than the others. Shows such as CES are more for developed companies,” says Turner. “SXSW really represents a hotbed of upcoming talent – whether they are developers or in music and film. They are early in their careers, and so a lot of companies really want them as customers.”

The airline will promote the hashtag #newAmerican. Its work includes a #newAmerican Lounge in the Austin Convention Center, complete with mobile recharging stations and massage chairs. It is also hosting “Office Hours” at the Startup America Lounge from March 8 to 11, giving entrepreneurs an opportunity to meet with company leaders. On March 9 and 10, American has partnered with AT&T to host “Travel Hack,” a competition for developers to create the best mobile app.

Jack Morton Worldwide is handling brand activation, and Weber Shandwick is managing PR for American.
While Turner says different units within American have different objectives at SXSW, “we'll be looking at new business accounts to determine the overall success of the sponsorship.”

The festival runs through March 17. The interactive portion, which kicked off Friday, was the single biggest contributor to the increase in overall attendance, according to an economic report prepared for SXSW. Attendance for the interactive portion reached 24,000 people in 2012, up from just under 20,000 in 2011. In total, 147,000 people attended at least one SXSW activity.

In its first significant presence at South by Southwest Interactive, Warner Brothers Television created an off-site pop-up experience called “Warner Bros. Tell-A-Vision,” which is dedicated to the art of storytelling.

“We've had executives on our digital side sit on panels, but now we're going in as marketers and, more importantly, as storytellers,” says Sonia Borris, SVP of marketing and operations for Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Marketing. “SXSW is a natural event for us to get involved with because we're expanding beyond TV and delivering content on multiple platforms.”

From March 8 to 11, visitors to the experience can step into the powered-down world of the post-apocalyptic NBC drama Revolution. It will also host a cocktail reception with comedy writer, producer, and author Chuck Lorre, known for Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, who is doing a Q&A at SXSW on March 9 with author Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Coraline).

On March 10 and 11, the CW Network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. and CBS, will set up a space where attendees can pitch their idea for a digital series to CW's digital studio CWD.

“This audience is very familiar with technology, and what we're trying to demonstrate with our involvement is that content plays a role in tech,” explains Borris. “We want to let people know that we're open to experimentation, and are developing new and innovate ways for fans to interact with our content.”

Warner Bros. Television is handling event activation and PR in-house.
Because they number in the thousands at the show, breaking through the clutter can be a challenge for technology providers.

San Francisco-based mobile rewards program Kiip, which is financially backed by Interpublic Group and has executed campaigns for brands such as American Express and Pepsi, is also taking a different approach to getting in front of potential customers this year.

While last year Kiip partnered on a flashmob-style dance party, this year it is focusing on “much more private events and parties with brands,” says Brian Wong, founder and CEO of Kiip.

Kiip is renting out a vacation house in Austin, which the company has dubbed KiipHaus, where this weekend it is hosting private events primarily with developers and brand executives. Kiip is also hosting a private brands-only cocktail party with Stubb's BBQ and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

Wong says the company also plans to pick a few select parties and sponsor a portion of their drinks. “True to the rewards value proposition of Kiip, there will be red bar naps with our logo on it,” says Wong. The bar naps will feature a URL, where visitors may be able to receive rewards.

Wong says SXSW is an important event for a growing brand like Kiip. “It's just a collection of like-minded folks that want to experience and are creating innovation,” he says.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is also a first timer at SXSW. “We want to connect with the youth philanthropy movement that we feel is gaining strength on digital and social platforms,” Holly Teichholtz, VP of marketing and communications at the nonprofit charitable organization, tells PRWeek.

Sam Fox (no relation to Michael) will speak March 11 about his 2011 hike of the Pacific Crest Trail to raise money for Parkinson's research (his mother was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease nine years ago). Fox was hired as the foundation's outreach and engagement officer about a year ago, and most recently in another fundraising challenge ran a 100-mile run in 24 hours.

“By literally pounding the pavement he had 25 people who joined him for part of the run. That got us to thinking about how can we scale that kind of effort using digital platforms,” says Teichholtz. “So the idea of going to SXSW was born out of those types of strategic conversations. And who better to talk to than the SXSW crowd about all the ways technology is enabling efforts to leave the world better than we found it.”

During his presentation, Sam will announce that he will crowdsource his next athletic feat. People can submit ideas for him via a Facebook tab and Twitter with the #GoSamGo hashtag.

Teichholtz says “depending on the number of miles of the new challenge, the foundation is asking Sam to find at least that many people to also join him on the challenge virtually or in real life.”

Fox will be accompanied to SXSW by Mike Wenger, the foundation's Web product manager, who will look to make new connections and learn about social platforms that amplify change. “We already have meetings set up with organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit,” says Fox.

Ruder Finn is handling media relations for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Agencies step up their game at SXSW
PR firms – particularly with those with Austin offices – are at the interactive portion of SXSW in a big way, creating official content, covering speakers and panels through their social media channels, sponsoring parties and events, and of course networking with clients. Here's a sampling of who's doing what.

For the first time, Hill+Knowlton Strategies has partnered directly with SXSW, the only PR firm to do so this year, says Allison Knaupe, SVP of digital. “We wanted to create substantive content for clients and potential clients,” she says. H+K has shaped a day of panels around data, including its impact on journalism and brand storytelling.

Austin PR firm INK is sponsoring the Convention Center's green room for the third consecutive year. The firm created a mural to showcase Austin's personality, and help encourage speakers to make their own mark on SXSW attendees.

GolinHarris launched SX Scout, a digital guide to help marketers identify the 40 most important panels in Austin. Tyler Travitz, director of digital design and development, is also is leading a panel discussion on real-time marketing content creation. 

Last year, Weber Shandwick had 50 to 60 staff (the majority from its tech practice) at SXSW. This year client leaders and members of its executive management team are also attending. “We're investing in a big way because the scene is one of a kind,” says Chris Perry, president of WS Digital.

Edelman is hosting a panel, “Contagious Content: Making Healthy Behavior Stick” with Jennifer Pfahler, EVP at Edelman Wellness 360. Also, Shwen Gwee, VP for digital health is on a panel sponsored by Aetna called “Social Health Startup Bootcamp: Investing in Health.”

Fleishman-Hillard has created an area called the Black Box Lounge at the Four Seasons. Here, visitors can recharge and trial its proprietary “black box” system that is helping brands create content out of conversations surrounding SXSW this year.

Cohn & Wolfe – which has a team of 20 people at SXSW this year – is the lead sponsor of the Stream @ SXSW with WPP Digital. The agency will curate content from the VIP mixer, which is being held March 9 at the Rattle Inn.

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