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Reflections from SXSW 2012

by Patrick Davis

This post is co-written by SEO Account Executives Brian Graham and Patrick Davis.

Now that the dust has settled a bit from South by Southwest (SXSW), we wanted to share some thoughts as a first time exhibitor. SXSW proved to be very fruitful for Slingshot SEO, and even though we were accepted as an exhibitor only two weeks prior to SXSW, we made the best of our limited preparation time and wanted to share some takeaways from a few different views. Our own SEO professionals, Brian Graham and Patrick Davis, an Austin native, explore what makes SXSW (and Austin) so great.

Why People Attend (Brian): Slingshot SEO attended because we wanted to represent our ever-evolving, constantly dynamic industry.  All the people we spoke with at our booth had a need to find that “next thing” they could use in their business to be more successful.  SXSW has a reputation for innovation and cutting-edge thought leadership. People were eager and open to collaborate and share ideas, and it was clear people were there to see and to experience that thought leadership.

An Outsider’s Perspective of Austin and SXSW (Brian):  SXSW is a great excuse to get to Austin.  I had never been to Austin prior to my SXSW experience, but the city was filled with unfettered energy. The food trucks and the band venues were a highlight. If others were unable to find things to do, they must have been locked in a hotel room.  I did wonder if this was what Austin was truly like, because SXSW clearly puts Austin in another dimension.  Austin seems to be young, progressive and very focused on the arts, though, and these traits translate well to hosting an event like SXSW.

An Austin Native’s Perspective of SXSW (Patrick):  SXSW is not a great time to visit if you’re trying to see Austin. The talk around Austin is that SXSW has gotten too big, and many Austinites avoid SXSW (and downtown in general) because of the challenges it presents. The flip side is that SXSW brings an unparalleled amount of industry leaders , lots of excitement (interactive, music, and film spectacles), and an estimated $167M in revenue (in 2011) to the city. It also takes place in what is arguably the best time of the year in Austin.

What to Do if You Plan to Go Next Year (Patrick):

  • Plan ahead, and start early! First and foremost, make the decision to go early, so you can start the planning process now. At 11 months out, yes, it is already time to start planning. Booths were sold out in December—as were a host of other things—so start now. Also, I wouldn’t recommend following in our harried steps as a fill-in exhibitor because you miss out on a lot exposure and because you have virtually no time to plan properly.
  • Find and collaborate with like-minded, complementary companies. Check out the attendee list to see the companies that are participating. Look for customers, prospects and partners who may be open to collaborating on an event or sharing a booth (also a good time to check to see if competitors are there). As an example, we’re talking to Marketo, a partner of ours, to collaborate on throwing a party next year that will be as great as the one they threw on their own this year. These partners can extend brand and presence significantly, as well as make the experience at SXSW far richer.
  • Define goals in order to establish your game plan at SXSW. Because it is so big and so diverse, it’s easy to get lost in the melee. I got some great advice from Lynn Fox from Klout, who didn’t actually attend any of the Interactive portion of SXSW, but whose team put on a handful of Klout sponsored events.  Their goal was simply to establish Klout’s presence across the Interactive part of SXSW. She advised people to nail down why they were attending (for branding, lead gen, etc.) and establish some firm goals.

In short, we didn’t know what to expect, but feel much better equipped for next year.  If you’re interested in discussing in greater detail, by all means, reach out—we’d love to chat.

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