South By Southwest interactive has come to an end for 2014. This was my sixth year of speaking at the conference and it gets better every year. It also gets bigger every year and some people say that experience quality is inversely related to attendance growth. Why? Because they miss the serendipity of the days when SXSW was smaller. What’s the benefit of serendipity? Reasons cited by Techcrunch include job hopping and love affairs.
Those two things have never been on my SXSW (let alone any professional conference) agenda so I haven’t been disappointed yet. In fact, the bigger SXSW gets, the better it becomes for a place to get business done. Here’s why.
- Guerrilla is out, grownup is in.
Forget the street teams handing out flyers and putting massive stickers on everything. The only people who need to stay up all night to get lucky are desperate startups and “serendipity” seekers. Real businesses have rented out proper meeting spaces like Oracle at the Waller Creek Boathouse and Samsung at Vince Young Steakhouse, so executives can sit down with partners and clients to conduct meetings without having to yell to be heard over the noise of a DJ or without being interrupted by free beer seekers shoving their way through a conversation.
- Everyone is here.
Well, not everyone. About a week before interactive started, I noticed an uptick in public declarations along the lines of “I’ve been so busy this year — and it’s only two months in! — that I deliberately choose not to attend SXSW because it is too low signal high noise for a person of my status.” It’s #FOMOSXSW. For the rest of us, this week brings heavy hitters to Austin from politics, media, entertainment, brands, and beyond. While Edward Snowden was remote, presumably due to visa/travel issues, it’s tough to be disappointed with the lineup of people available to meet in person.
- It’s about the hands-on experience.
Most conferences are limited to the constraints of a single venue, like Centers Moscone or Javits. SXSW takes place over a large part of an entire city. So instead of trade show booths, most brands are able to offer hands-on activations, like giving rides in cars, sitting on an iron throne made from swords, setting up a go-kart track, walking through a wired home, eating 3-D printed candy, eating food made from artificial intelligence recipes, and so on. Brands also leverage local spots with world renown, like WCG’s event at Franklin Barbecue and Umbel’s party at Austin City Limits Moody Theater.
Hope you had a productive time in Austin — and see you next year.
For more on how business gets done at SXSW, check out David Berkowitz‘s Ad Age column “Let’s Be Honest: SXSW Is About Innovation in Marketing, not Tech” and Hubspot‘s “9 Unforgettable SXSW Moments.”