" This year, I had the chance to go to Austin (Texas) to attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival for the first time ever. This trip was years in the making and it ended up being everything I had in mind and more. " By Michael Boamah, International Communications Manager at BETC.
SXSW: where creative people share ideas and achieve their goals
My previous plans to go to SXSW in 2020 were canceled at the last minute due to the pandemic, so I was really eager to finally discover what the city of Austin had to offer during ten days in March.
SXSW has positioned itself as the main festival on the circuit. These past decades it was mostly known for being a launchpad for tech entrepreneurs. Apps such as Twitter, Foursquare or Meerkat got their big break in Austin and went on to conquer the world.
Also, the festival always manages to get top speakers for its opening keynote. Recent honorees have been Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ta-Nehisi Coates or Barack Obama. In a sense, it’s engineered FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
By now, I am sure you must be wondering why should professionals of marketing and communication attend a conference in the heart of Texas ?
SXSW is the ultimate inspiration place. It’s the event where you get a view into what’s next and get to expand your point of view by being exposed to so many different topics at the same time.
Let’s face it. The beauty of the festival is that SXSW is not just one thing. It is labeled as tech, film, and music. But this year the programing booked conferences on topics as diverse as mobility, healthcare, creator economy, or LGBTQ+ rights.
When you think about it, all these topics are important for advertising people. They represent the issues that we will be talking about with our clients as we want to create work that fits into the current societal environment.
It’s important to be exposed to leading voices on these fronts, especially when we won’t already have a formed opinion on them.
In my opinion, the best aspect of SXSW is the way that the conferences are chosen every year. It happens through a system called Panel Picker in the summer leading to the festival, where organizations and individuals submit panels for consideration and the public is asked to pick what they want to see. That’s a very democratic process for such a big event and guarantees a balanced agenda where all voices and opinions are respected.
The other great thing about the Panel Picker is how a great piece of research it represents. Imagine that. You get to see what big and small innovative companies around the world are thinking, working on six months in advance. It’s like looking through a window into the future.
The democratic aspect of SXSW lies even deeper. During each of the conferences, workshops and presentations, everybody in the room is allowed to ask questions to the speakers. Power to the people.
“You won’t be replaced by an AI, but by a human that knows how to use AI better than you”
For the 2023 edition, the featured speakers were Ryan Gellert, CEO of Patagonia, and Greg Brockman, President of OpenAi. The main themes of SXSW were around climate activism, artificial intelligence, augmented reality … and Tiktok.
We can bet that these topics will keep being in central focus for marketers and agencies in the coming months. Brands will have to take a stand on these megatrends and experiment, if they haven’t already. And who are better teachers on these questions than the organizations that are already leading the way in their respective fields and implemented breakthroughs: Patagonia with its ownership structure meant to protect nature and biodiversity and OpenAi with the Dall-E 2, ChatGPT and GPT-4 tools.
But that’s not at all. During ten days in March, SXSW becomes sort of the world’s epicenter. The festival manages to attract leaders of all sorts that bring to Austin a convergence of major events into one place. You get to experience book launches, esports tournaments, trends reports reveals, film & TV shows premieres, concerts, product drops …
It becomes THE place to be if you aim to generate buzz on your upcoming project. Last year, the film Everything Everywhere All At Once chose to debut at SXSW and the momentum it created lasted a full year until the film was awarded the Best Picture at the Oscars.
This year, the town was taken over by streamers trying to drive interest for their new shows. Apparently, it is hard for them to launch a series and get a Netflix moment.
Finally, South By wouldn’t be South By without its music festival. Before I left for Austin, a close friend asked me who the headliner was this year and I couldn’t answer him. It turns out that SXSW books artists that are talented but not yet famous. Looking at the list of musical artists, you wouldn’t recognize any name. Most of them have never even performed outside of their state. The music festival could be the place where they get noticed and catch their big break.
My personal favorites: Sudan Archives (music), American Born Chinese (TV), Bottoms (film), and Joy Ride (film). Watch out for them.
In a nutshell, SXSW is a festival where you get to wander around 300,00 like-minded thinkers, doers and creatives all looking for inspiration and willing to get surprised. The energy over there is incredible and I couldn’t recommend it more.
Go plan your trip to SXSW and keep Austin weird !
Godfrey & Michael Boamah, SXSW, Austin 2023