If you’re reading this post you probably fall into only one of two categories: you are excited to learn why you should or shouldn’t go to SXSWi OR you are wondering if SXSW is the newest version of P90X. Honestly, you might not know what either one is, but when it comes down to the conference for all things digital, music and more, it comes all down to SXSW or what’s more formerly known as South by Southwest or the conference goers as “South By.”
As the big daddy of conferences especially in the music world and now the technology environment too, SXSW, I’ve always wanted to attend. Thankfully, I was asked to be an ambassador for Pfister, so I had the opportunity to travel to Austin for three days to Austin with my blog friend from Milk and Cuddles to explore SXSW together.
My one word to describe SXSW? Overwhelming.
But overwhelming doesn’t necessarily mean something negative, it’s just a lot to take in. However, with a few points of advice, you can figure out if SXSW is for you, what to expect and how to get the most out of it.
Four Tips for a Successful SXSW Experience
Hotels for SXSW open as early as fall for the following year. I’d highly suggest you book one close and realize it’s going to be costly. Since I didn’t decide to go until February, I was stuck with some expensive, yet crappy choice for hotels. While it was only three miles away, each day I had to deal with a little traffic, I did have to plan my parking strategy. Many nearby lots offer parking at $25 for just the day, so I would have to have my evening plans scheduled in advance or I might have a ticket waiting for me or a car not waiting for me. However, having a hotel downtown would have made things easier if it’s within walking distance of the Austin Convention Center.
Charge cords for all those smart devices, cameras, and computers are a must. While I picked up two freebie ones at SXSW, that was just a lucky circumstance. Remember, there are stations as well in the lounges (see below), but if you plan to tweet a session and the phone starts to go low 30 minutes in, I’m telling you that you aren’t finding a cord. (For other helpful things to bring, check out this post on “Last-Minute Must-Pack Items for SXSW.“)
With more than 70,000 at this conference and hundreds of topics, tradeshows and discussions you can attend, it’s impossible to attend everything you want. So you have to be choosy. I attended several sessions at SXSW and would have attended more if I hadn’t learned my first lesson early: know what session you really want to go to, make sure you are there in advance and just because it’s a few blocks away, doesn’t mean it will only take you 10 minutes to get there. My favorite session was with Dallas Mavs owner/technology genius/Shark Tanker Mark Cuban. I honestly wanted to hear a hometown hero at work and I think he represented Big D in a big way. He talked candidly and in true SXSW fashion, rolled out his new app.
There are social events out the wazoo at SXSW. Some are within the event, some are just in around the city. Ironically, only a few are official, so get those thumbs to working on social media looking up what’s available. There were luncheons, dinners, happy hours, tours…well anything and 99% of was free. The Austin American-Statesman had a list of events I found and so did Eventbrite. Just make sure to sign up for these too, as some of them will sell out.
As a brand representative, PR pro, and blogger, I experienced SXSW with several different points of views.
Standouts from my SXSW included:
The Paypal Social Media Lounge was a phenomenal of creating a space for attendees that they wanted to come to repeatedly throughout the event and even enjoy difference experience. Set up as a recharging station for powering up devices, attendees also could order a handcrafted barista-made coffee, meet and greet with a book author, grab a quick snack and even grab some much needed swag at the Paypal store for free. The “store” was actually a way to try out its new online store app to purchase from brick and mortar retailers with a smartphone. While Paypal was actually giving attendees a choice of a charging adapter, umbrella, hangover kit, etc., a product representative a chance to guide the attendee through their first use of the app, making sure everyone who entered the door left with the downloaded app and branded merchandise.
While I wasn’t sure what the brand was when I walked in, I can tell you that everyone wanted to be in the Circus Maximus Lounge. With breakfast, the best Tito’s Bloody Marys and really cute shirts, this coordinated effort between several technology brands had something going on at all times. I’m still not sure exactly all the company names or if they had any real importance for me, it made an impression.
I literally bumped (actually just stumbled) into the Samsung Loungeacross from the Austin Convention Center. Taking over a restaurant space, the Samsung lounge had experiences happening all over the place and it felt like several night clubs in the middle of the day. We had tacos, cocktails, customized juice blends based on our activity style – and everything had a Samsung touchpoint. For those with Samsung devices, attendees could trade in their battery for a new one on the spot.
Of course, the best part of SXSW is that it’s in Austin. No one doesn’t like going to Austin; it’s beautiful (except when it rains in the winter), laid back and full of fun places to eat and experience. From food trucks along Caesar Chavez to rolling down South Congress (SoCo), there are tons of places you can eat.
Places to eat in Austin: I enjoyed the food trucks including this crazy hot mess of tater tots with Longanisa and Sriracha one night for Be More Pacific. Then after a day of nothing but cold rain (which also makes for a different experience in Austin all together), a creamy, rich bowl homemade Papardelle from Enoteca-Vespaio and a risotto balls to die for. I’m still getting cravings for that dish as we speak. However, no Austin experience would be complete without brunch, so the only restaurant we had reservations for was La Condesa and it was worth it. A guacamole tasting, duck fries and some amazing chorizo eggs benedict on a quinoa cake – it was pretty delicious and a wise move since there was a huge waiting line after we left.
Still trying to decide? I’d suggest if you are with a brand launching a service that represents the tech demo or wants to own your place amongst your competition, it’s a must. If you are a blogger, SWSW has some great opportunities, but the sessions I attended seemed less workshop style and more discussion of social responsibility and how technology will play out in the future. However, the energy was intense and was an amazing way to immerse myself in all things in the digital world. And remember, you can always go to Austin during SXSW and be a part of the scene and not even buy a ticket. (I think my friend actually had an even better experience than me and she paid just her spending money while she was there.)
My last bit of advice for SXSW: Make sure you have a solid goal and stick to it. If you are going to hang and to check out the scene, then understand that’s what you are doing. If you are going in efforts to meet tons of people, then pound some coffee and get after it. Just make sure your agenda is clear from the beginning, so you accomplish what you set out to accomplish! Basically, it might not be a life-changing experience, but “it’d a whole lot cooler if you did.”