Head of Integrated Production, Barton F. Graf 9000
SXSW Interactive Guide is a series of industry interviews designed to help you navigate the crowds, restaurants, bars, and sessions at the event.
What elements make for a great SXSW?
Preparation, planning, and an open attitude. Plan for serendipity.
Essentials to bring with you:
- Comfortable walking shoes. Duh.
- Vitamins. You’ll be out late. A lot. Important to replace those lost essentials.
- Tylenol. See above.
- Earplugs. For clubs where music is way too loud and/or to drown out the late night party in the hotel room next to yours.
- A small camera. Hi-rez celeb pics and videos of your colleagues doing silly things can yield a wonderful bounty.
- An iPhone charger or extra battery pack. I prefer the Mophie battery cases. They’re a bit bigger but will save you when cell networks are jammed and you’re constantly trying to send/receive texts, figure out where you need to be and so on.
- A lightweight, waterproof jacket. The weather in Austin can be incredibly uncooperative. Last year it was 50 and raining until Monday. Then it was warm and sunny. Bring something to wear for any occasion.
Many hotels start booking in May. Most open for booking in August. Hotel space is limited and sells out very fast. Plan ahead because downtown is where most events take place and where most everything is walking distance. Official hotels (which are most non-Motel 6 types) can only be booked via the SXSW website after registering for a badge.
Plan to arrive early morning or anytime that is not a festival start/end day. Getting stuck in the taxi queue in the rain with 500 people is not a good way to kick off your conference.
“Stay up twice as late. Drink half as much. Remember more! ” I stole this from someone but I can’t remember who because clearly I didn’t follow the advice.
Don’t schedule any meetings before 2pm. If possible, don’t plan on morning meetings or panels.
Write down things that inspire you as you see them. Document as much as you can and then write about it and share it before, during, but especially after. You won’t remember a lot of it a few weeks later and much of what you’ll see and experience could potentially influence your career, organization or just be a great memory.
Be open. You will make a plan to go to SXSW and have a million panels you and want to see and parties that you’ll want to go to. You will likely make less than half of that happen. Your plans will change mid-step and you’ll meet new people and wind up at events that you didn’t even know were happening. Being open to letting your experience take its own shape is half the fun of going. I believe that planning for serendipity and not always making a detailed plan for your trip can make it that much more exciting.
What person is your reliable go-to guide for all the great things at SXSW?
The SXSW planner itself is ok. There are so many panels that it is overwhelming and very hard to drill down what will actually be of substance. In many cases, if you know more than 10% about any given topic, the conversation can be underwhelming. So, I comb the planner for what looks interesting and then go to old colleagues and friends to get a sense of what will be worthwhile. People like –
Todd Porter – He’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Music Producer/Broadcast Producer. Todd is an SXSW veteran and generally knows every amazing show that is going to happen throughout the week. Hell of a nice guy as well. I’d show you the video he made of SXSW Survival Tips but he’d never speak to me again. However, some of his pointers are in the “preparation” bit above.
Mike Geiger – President and CIO of JWT NY usually knows where all the agency and tech parties are at. Between he and Todd I’m usually pretty set.
Everyone else – This sounds obvious but poll your network of friends and colleagues a few weeks out. Make and share a Google doc or make a Facebook group. Clearly you won’t be tapped into everything that is going on, but your network probably will.
What is the most innovative or inspiring thing that you’ve seen or learned at SXSW?
I’d say last year’s TED SXSW was pretty inspired. The panels themselves can get a little droll (panelist tip – show more work and talk less about how you did it and why that makes you a special flower) but TED (as they do) found a way to make a very special event. They had local musicians kick it off and then 5 minute presentations from the likes of Ayah Bdier, founder of Little Bits to DJ Spooky among others.
That said, every year I find a new band and bit of tech that I tend to fall in love with. Years ago I saw The Black Angels open for Queens of the Stone Age at SXSW and I’ve been a huge Black Angels fan since. Last year, I got to see The Marching Teeth melt faces at at a metal showcase/BBQ and then FIDLAR‘s punk rock set blew everyone away at the White Iris music showcase and are now touring the world. The new music discovery bit alone is worth going alone, even if you only go for Interactive like I normally do.
On the tech side last year socially aware apps were a big hit. Things like Highlight were making big waves as well as Glancee and Banjo. While the social awareness app has yet to break through completely, it is intriguing to see where this could go (automatic check ins and more targeted, contextual discovery as to who and what are around you.)
And finally, we all look forward to seeing how brands will up the ante every year to engage consumers. Last year what Nike did to launch the Fuel Band was amazing and AmEx’s Jay-Z concert at Austin City Limits was incredible. Looking forward to see who takes the cake this year.
Best freebie you’ve gotten from SXSW?
It’s the most consistent free hangover I get annually. I tend to stay away from the shwag. Last year I got the Nike Fuel but it was far from free. Still wearing it. Nike did a good job gamifying day to day activity.
What is the biggest waste of time at the festival?
The free parties that are open to everyone are kind of a waste. Maybe I’m getting too old but the lines are insanely long, they are way too overcrowded and it is nearly impossible to get a drink and have a conversation with anyone.
Also, as mentioned above, morning meetings and panels are a bit of a waste. That is, if you’re like me and going to be out late often and making serendipity work for you.