South by Southwest (SXSW) has become the place to be for innovators and creatives. With experiential film, music, comedy and interactive tracks, it’s the perfect place for marketers to get inspired.
The festival has more than 100 sessions, dozens of parties and over a mile of festival grounds, so navigating SXSW can be a challenge. We’ve put together everything you need to take on SXSW like a pro, from expert tips from SXSW veterans to a downloadable guide (complete with an interactive map and discount codes for travel planning and ride sharing apps)!
Whether you’re heading to Austin to discover what’s next or to be discovered yourself, the intel below will help you get the most out of your SXSW experience.
The Must-See Lineup at SXSW 2017
Before you head out to the festival, take a look at the schedule so you have an idea of what you’re getting into. Create a list of sessions and activations you definitely want to see. Plan for at least two a day. You can see the full schedule here.
Pay attention to session titles as well as the speakers. A winning combination for a session would be a topic that interests you with speakers you’d love to meet.
“SXSW helped me understand the future of visual communications and how I can benefit from the changes headed our way,” he explains. “I used what I learned there to formulate and execute my business strategy.”
Check out these must-see sessions to get inspired and build up your visual storytelling chops.
Distilling Passion: Future of Impact Storytelling
Speakers: Ben Roffee, Neet Upadhye, Emily Hawkins, Mallory Brown
You know your cause is important, but do others? Learn how to engage your audience using cutting edge storytelling technology.
Voyeurism on the Small Screen: Innovations in Mobile Storytelling
Speakers: Zach Wechter, Shabnam Mogharabi
Learn from leading creators, tech experts, reps, and producers about storytelling trends for the pocket-sized screen.
Creators in Social Media: Enhancing Your Content
Speakers: Devin Supertramp, Julien Solomita, Michael Shabun, Liz Eswein
Looking to improve your social media presence? This session explores the impact of technology on enhancing videos for social media, increasing followers, and conquering the unique challenges of being a one-man team.
Power of Storytelling In Sports Entertainment
Speakers: Bryan Tucker, Grant Jones, Karin Hammerberg
The drama of sports is no longer confined to the stadium. Now, more than ever, sports are part of popular culture. Find out how the sports world is becoming an increasingly dominant force in entertainment.
How Immersive Storytelling Explores Social Issues
Speakers: Christian Divine, Dr. Jeffrey Jones, Raney Aronson-Rath
Find out how Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Award winners use technology to enhance their storytelling.
Letting Go and The New Way to Tell Visual Stories
Speakers: Aaron Huey, Patrick Witty, Rajiv Mody
Scared about initiating an Instagram takeover of your brand? Learn how National Geographic turned over the keys to its Instagram, and why the brand is now using the same model on Facebook and Snapchat.
A Shared Purpose: Keys to Leveraging Authenticity
Speakers: David Guttenfelder, Greg Asner, Sadie Quarrier
How can your brand maintain authenticity while working with influencers? Find out at this session.
The Creator’s Handbook for VR & 360 Storytelling
Speakers: Yelena Rachitsky, Julia Sourikoff, Jessica Brillhart, Brandon Milbradt
You can shoot 360 video, but can you use it to tell a story? This session takes a look into the future of storytelling with VR and 360 Video.
So many amazing sessions. So little time.
Photography: Still An Agent for Change
Speakers: Endia Beal, Jeff Frost, Michelle Dunn Marsh, Becci Manson
Compelling imagery is an essential tool for cause-driven organizations. Learn how organizations are using photography to spark social change.
How Can We Make 360 Video Actually Compelling?
Speakers: Rose Troche, Ola Bjorling, Imraan Ismail, Nick Bicanic
You shot a 360 video, and you’re not sure what to do next? Find out here.
Adding Meaning and Context to Visual Media
Speakers: Peter Krogh, Anna Dickson, Ramesh Jain
Every photo has layers of meaning behind it – the creator’s intention, what was happening in the background when the photo was taken. Find out how external data, computer-vision and human-assisted curation can provide context in a new age of visual media.
Contemporary Curation: How Imagery Shapes a Brand
Speakers: Art Markman, David Moon, Oen Michael Hammonds
Why do some images fit a brand’s message and others fail? Explore how the right images can power a brand’s narrative.
Bonus: SXSW Off the Record
There are so many events happening outside of the official schedule that some people go to SXSW without ever stepping foot into the convention center. To get the full Southby experience, make sure to check out an unofficial SXSW event. You can find out about them on SXSW’s Twitter and Facebook.
Tips for Creatives and Content Marketers
Have a goal in mind.
If you go into SXSW on a mission, you’ll have a better experience.
Do you want to meet a specific person? Gather enough information and photos for a killer blog post? Learn more about the Internet of Things? Whatever it is, keeping your goal top of mind will help you stay focused during the flurry of activity.
Be prepared and be present.
Download the SXSW app. Make sure your electronics are charged. Pack more business cards than you think you need. Practice your elevator pitch. Have your social media channels at the ready.
Why is this so important? Being prepared will help you live in the moment.
And on that note…
The age old rule, “never talk to strangers,” doesn’t apply here. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversation – everyone’s there to meet people and swap ideas.
The key is to keep the interaction short and impactful. Remember to listen and see how you can help the people you meet, as well.
Tips for Brands
SXSW has been a launching pad for new products and companies since Twitter made its splash in 2007. Having an eye-catching, interactive activation is the key to success.
“Brands that win are the ones that tell a story without telling the story,” says Mignott. “They become a destination that you want to stay. I get this brand. They get me. It’s far more cool. Far more memorable.”
Let’s take a look at the brands that got it right at previous festivals:
Game of Thrones: Hall of Faces
In this 2016 activation, attendees not only got to sit on the Iron Throne (I know!), but they could also add their visage to the Hall of Faces, #selfie style. They even created TheHallofFaces.com so fans at home could play along.
— Bryce Yeargan (@bryceyeargan) March 12, 2016
Refinery29: School of Self-Expression
Another stand-out activation from 2016 was Refinery29’s School of Self-Expression.
“Fusing tech, creative, and style, Refinery29 held their own mini-SXSW with panels, yoga classes, art installations, and more,” says Gillian Driscoll, founder of Sound Dessert, a music consultancy in Austin. “Pros like Kate Bosworth, Chuck Grant, Wynter Gordon and more shared their experiences and predictions for the future of tech and style, while guests got to listen, create, and interact with the space around them. It was visual, educational, and engaging: everything that makes for a winning activation.”
— Yujin Heo (@mintyujin) March 14, 2016
Kodak: Memory Observatory
To launch its Moments App, Kodak created a walk-in structure where participants could share a memory or listen to the story behind a photo. The tent-like structure created an intimate environment that demonstrated the emotional power of photos.
— Brooklyn Labs (@brooklynlabs) March 15, 2016
Download the Insider’s Guide to SXSW
Don’t miss out on the best of SXSW 2017. Download our insider’s guide to get access to an interactive map (it’s got everything from SXSW key locations to the best coffee spots in Austin), discount codes for ride sharing and trip planning, and more tips from SXSW veterans!