In just over a week, thousands and thousands of technology mavens, investors, media members, and PR pros will make the trek to Austin, Texas, for the annual SXSW Interactive festival. The event draws a who’s who of people involved in just about anything happening in the world of technology – along with SXSW Film (March 13-21) and Music (March 17-22). It’s a sight to see and experience, especially if you’ve never been.
While Interactive has been around since 1994, it’s truly seen exponential growth over the last decade. One only needs to peek at the speakers and details from 2005 on to see how it has evolved.
Not coincidentally, the world of PR has changed at a similarly staggering rate during that same period. PR is always evolving, but significant changes in media (how it’s consumed and created, what a "big player" is nowadays, prevalence of influencers in social) during a similar timeframe to SXSW’s growth have created a whirlwind that may sometimes seem uncontrollable.
We have all moved into a world where FOMO – fear of missing out – is a real thing. I know dozens – hundreds, probably – of colleagues across this industry that attend SXSW partially because it’s where to "see and be seen," and partially to get work done. While a week or two in Austin – I’m a fan of staying for Music – can easily be seen as a fun time to meet up with friends, coworkers, and other industry professionals, it’s important to recognize what an awesome opportunity SXSW is for those who ply our trade.
And for any PR pros doing events in Austin, the biggest thing to remember is that simply being at SXSW isn’t nearly enough. Having a party or setting up a booth doesn’t cut the mustard.
When you’re with a group of innovators – as you will be – you must do something different, edgy, creative, and attention-grabbing. This goes for the simplest of activities – try scheduling a coffee or two with some media contacts of yours if you haven’t – to the more complex, such as a product launch. Mark Twain once wrote, "There is no such thing as a new idea." Curiously, he probably wasn’t the first person to say, write, or think that.
What I’ve tried to come away from SXSW with – other than a slew of lanyards, random swag, and a couple hundred business cards – is some inspiration. That could come from looking at how an event succeeded (or failed), how a client’s competitor marketed itself, or what’s hot in the marketplace, e.g. location-based check-ins, mobile messaging, and other "trends" that (mostly) began at SXSW.
Focusing simply on who’s there, how to jam everything in, and what parties you will attend shouldn’t be your focus – though it’s darn fun to do. Making sure you walk away with something to act on, respond to, or do differently should be. So amidst the Snapchats from friends, Meerkat (did you get this one yet?) live videos swarming Twitter, and whatever other new and fascinating services come to light later this month, make a note to yourself (Evernote works too) on what’s awesome, what’s not so awesome, and what you want to do more or less of moving forward based on what you see, hear, and experience in Austin. The rest of us – especially those who won’t be there – will appreciate it. As an added bonus, you won’t feel as guilty for hanging out with Kendrick Lamar at the [insert company here] party that one night.
Tom Biro is SVP of Allison+Partners' Seattle office. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tombiro.