Linda Koritkoski is the Director of Marketing for .CO Internet
In 2011, .CO had barely just launched, and our marketing team (myself included) assumed SXSW would be just another sponsored event. We set up some unique activities and sent a few of our team members to attend. Boy, did we underestimate the power of SXSW! While what we did was still amazing, we came back knowing that the SXSW monster needed far greater firepower if we were to battle it again. So this year, nearly our whole team was sent to Austin, and this time we were armed and ready to squeeze every last drop of opportunity out of SXSW. You can learn a little bit more about what we did here and here.
Having just returned from the 2012 festival, I feel a bit like a battle-tested SXSW veteran. Sure our team is a little bruised and battered from the 24×7 wear and tear of the festivities – but we’ve come back a stronger, more cohesive, more focused and committed team than ever before. And that’s the best ROI that any startup can hope to achieve.
Having “done” SXSW for the past two years in a row now, we’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to succeed. While we definitely don’t have it all figured out (yet!) –here are a few tips — from our startup to yours — about what it takes to get noticed and make an impact amidst all the craziness and hoopla known as SXSW!
In the sea of people, make a splash
There are so many things going on over the time span of SXSW. Focus your efforts on a few main events (or even just one big juicy one) where you believe it is most important to have a major presence. You can’t be everywhere at once, but by selecting the events that are most important to your audience, you can be sure to make your presence felt. Do your best to make sure that the key people attending your key events know exactly who you are and what your startup is all about before they walk out the door! Work on forming great partnerships before you get to SXSW so that you and your partners can co-promote one another for maximum impact.
SXSW is a team sport, play hard
SXSW is big, messy and hard to figure out. There are several hundred events, happening all day long, every single day, at the same time. If you can afford to send more than one person on your team — do it. (If you can’t afford it, the previous point becomes even more crucial). If you do have multiple team members (or a gang of them, like we did) have a game plan in advance so you know exactly who is going to cover each event, and what everyone is expected to achieve while “on the ground” in Austin. With fabulous parties and exciting product launches everywhere you turn, it can be easy for people to get carried away with all the fun and excitement in the air. As long as your team is totally focused on getting business done, while they’re having fun – you’re golden!
Give schwag that’ll make it into their bag
Most SXSW-ers experience schwag overload and let’s face it, most of that branded shwag isn’t making it home with them. Instead of giving out lots of meaningless or poor quality items, get your name out there by giving people something useful to them. You may not have a generous budget so don’t spend what you do have on things that will never live beyond Austin. This year, we opted for .CO umbrellas to keep people dry during all the rainy days at the festival (Thank you weather.com for the advanced notice!). We also invested in .CO UX design notebooks and stencils, which were not only a unique giveaway but were greatly appreciated by all the buspreneurs on the Startup Bus and participants in Janice Fraser’s Lean UX presentation as part of the Lean Startup track. Give out schwag that people will want to take home with them, not items that they’ll ditch before they even get back to their hotel. Imagine all the places your brand will go if it can live beyond SXSW!
Make time for serendipity
If you’re in your hotel room, you’re in the wrong place. You should be out and about at SXSW because you never know who you’ll meet at any given moment. Avoid overscheduling yourself; you need to make the time for the unexpected to happen. All of the people you’ve been eager to mix and mingle with – the thought leaders, tech influencers, startup founders you’ve been reading about – are all likely to be at SXSW. So are the behind-the-scenes creative and technical geniuses who could potentially change your company’s destiny and the people who will one day create the “next big thing…” You never know just who you’re sitting next to at an event or standing in front of in line to get your Nike Fuel Band. Approach everyone with curiosity and an open mind, and you’ll be amazed by the opportunities you will create for your company.
If you’ve never been to SXSW, you’re in for quite an experience. Get ready to have your mind blown. I promise you that after your first SXSW, you will quickly come to realize the ways you can improve your presence for the following year – and there’s no other way to know that except for to just give it your best the first year and be prepared to “pivot” the next. Hopefully you can use some of what I’ve learned over the past two years to make your involvement in SXSW that much more beneficial to your business. See you in Austin next year! Oh… one last thing: if you haven’t already made hotel reservations for your team for 2013, do it today! I promise, you’ll thank me later.