SXSW access: The ultimate social currency

Jack Blog

March 25th, 2016 By Jack Morton

For a New Yorker, or anyone who’s ever run the party circuit, you know having “a guy on the inside” is your key to success. At SX, there is a very similar vibe. Badge access, wristbands and guest lists only get you so far. Regardless of your credential, you are still faced with long lines—potentially for over an hour at times—and risk being turned away at the door due to capacity issues. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for a good fire marshal safety plan (ask me about my experience at Tomatina circa 2011 over a glass of wine sometime) but it can be a bit of a downer when you’re told you can’t get into a show you waited for…in the sun…while you were starving/thirsty/etc… Know a friend who’s producing the event? Give them a buzz and cut the line. WIN. But if that’s not the case, what do you do?

SXSW_3For brands hosting activations, here are a few things to take advantage of when it comes to “access” and crowds:

  • Offer special access: Can you offer a special VIP experience to certain guests? Raffles to cut the line, if you are X member (card holder/customer of X brand), social listening and rewards for engaging with a given #hashtag, etc. Partner Preview Parties are always great as well!
  • Capitalize on all the “waiting”: Leverage the long lines as a programming opportunity, surprise celeb appearance, giveaways, or a moment to introduce an unexpected hospitality (snacks/drinks/fans, etc.). Talk about checking the metaphorical brand love “box”!
  • Tap into popular events/crowds nearby: Part of any festival planning includes researching the landscape you’re living in and knowing what other events/brands will be activating around you. Trust me, you’ll want to know this! In the situation that another activation near you draws a big crowd, take advantage of that. Capture that audience while they are in line or when they leave that event. You’ve already crossed barrier #1—“get people to you”—by having them right next door. Is there a partnership opportunity of some capacity you could leverage with the other brand? If not, capitalize on their crowds by stepping up your curb appeal or offering an experience for them that can complement the other event pre/post major programming. One year I worked on a show that was next to MTV’s Woody Awards…there were some perks as well as challenges to that…but I like to remember the perks!


So how does this idea of “access” relate to those of us in the industry?

Whether you’re there on the agency, client, or vendor side, networking is a must. I mean we can’t let SX be a complete Boondoggle. Here are some thoughts on networking in a cluttered space list SX—AKA, leveraging your assets.

    • There is no better time to reconnect with old friends or clients in the industry. People will be on one side of the fence or the other: producing work or wishing they were producing work. If you know someone producing work, go check it out! You 100% should see any work your friends or clients are activating. On a human level we should all celebrate and support one another. (Wouldn’t you appreciate that?!) If you are hoping to work with these people in the future, there is no better way to speak intelligently about what’s going on in their world than experiencing it with them by your side. This is also your “guy on the inside.” You can still experience things as a consumer and put the industry filter on post-event.
    • For folks you’ve wanted to meet, reach out! Meet for a drink or take them to a show/event that you found impressive. If YOU can play the “guy on the inside” by offering access to an event you or your agency are producing, it’s a great carrot to dangle. Quite frankly, it’s a fun way to show off your team’s work and get a little street cred in the meantime.
    • Then there’s always the unplanned networking. You are on fertile ground…go forth and make new friends! Airport baggage claim, the hotel lobby, nearly everything is humming with industry folks. You never know if the next Mark Zuckerberg is sitting next to you. So don’t forget the lipstick… 😉

Rather than trying to overcome the crowds, embrace the festival for what it is, keep your contacts close and when all else fails, go grab a drink until the next wave of crowds dies down. SXSW, see ya next year!