March 28th, 2011 By Jack Morton
Last week I was one of the 17,000 lucky geeks to attend SXSWi in Austin, Texas. I’ll be blogging my observations from the event in a multi-part series on the Jack Blog, and I hope you follow along. Today’s topic: SXSWi Itself – observations on a growing event.
With so many new attendees and such high visibility in the press, SXSW Interactive has had to evolve and grow up over the past few years. Now the largest of the 3 events (Interactive, Film, Music), SXSWi seemed to attract many more agency and international folks this year, and sessions are decidedly less ‘serious, hands-on tech’, with more focus on business, marketing, and content development. Some of this change has been welcomed and is great (fabulous speakers, more and more diverse attendees, better food), but of course there are some growing pains. Venues changed with the growth, and sessions were offered at over 6 different hotels and locations around the city. If you didn’t plan your schedule well, or if you got caught up in shuttle traffic, you were probably left standing outside of an overflowing room… it seemed to happen fairly often in the first few days of the event. Parties at night usually meant you had to skip a 5pm session to go stand in line with the other ‘exclusive, VIP’ invitees (aka everyone). And for some unfortunate reason, the biggest networking event was scheduled on the night of the daylight savings time shift. As a result, the fantastic TEDx session at 9:30 Sunday morning only had half of a room for their great presentation.
Moving away from complaints, the new size created new marketing opportunities that were handled well…
Chevrolet created a really nice brand interaction by providing a fleet of vehicles available to whisk any attendee to an event destination on demand.
PepsiCo continued their headlining sponsorship of the event with several installations, including a parking lot transformed into the ‘PepsiMax Lot’, providing free samples, swag, shaded spots to sit and work, a photo booth, DJ beat competition, giant LED screen, casual gaming area (table tennis, FourSquare with the FourSquare folks), and free food catered by the ever-delicious La Condesa.
CNN took over local favorite Max’s Wine Dive for their ‘Daily Grill’ which served up food as well as a broadcast set and plethora of news-watching screens.
Sony, IFC, Zynga, and others all had branded lounges within easy walking distance of the Convention Center, and sponsorship in general – formal and informal – was pretty well done across the board. As usual, paper handouts were out of control, but the good folks at SXSW eliminated their own massive print swag this year by offering digital downloadable swag instead – apps, discounts, and special content downloaded directly from the SXSW portal page. That was one well conceived idea I’d love to see replicated at many more events.