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6 ways to win SXSW


It’s said that around 30,000 people will descend on Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SxSWi) this year. And I’m one of them.

I’ve been coming to SX longer than some of my children have been alive. Why do I keep coming back? Because this is the most important digital marketing festival of the year. Hands down.

“FOMA (Fear of Missing Anything)” is transformed in March to “Fear of Missing Austin.” SXSW is an incredible opportunity to experience compelling presentations and panel discussions from the brightest minds in emerging technology and marketing. But, there’s a catch. You have to navigate a massive crowd attending more than 850 sessions, consuming tens of thousands of tacos in just five days. It can be overwhelming. So, I’m going to do my best to make things a little easier for you.

The agency I work for, GolinHarris (GH), has had a presence since the beginning, and every year, it’s grown. In 2014, we’ll have a team on the ground representing more than ten GH offices around the world – from the palm trees of L.A. to the pubs of London and the hustle and bustle of Brazil.

Here are six ways you can win SX. You’ll set out feeling determined, arrive and experience the festival feeling excited and leave feeling accomplished. And you just might have a little too much fun along the way – which brings me to my first suggestion.

1.     Pace Yourself

This is a marathon, not a sprint. When you arrive in Austin from the far reaches of the world – I know many of you have been experiencing the Polar Vortex for the better part of four months – you may experience the elated giddiness that accompanies that first day of Spring. The sun will shine brighter, the air will smell of BBQ and craft beer and you’ll want to learn, see, do, eat, drink and experience everything…right…now. But you can’t. You have five days. So, spread the love around and don’t try to do it all on the first day. Oh, and drink a lot of water. (Cocktail ice doesn’t officially count.)

2.     Channel Your Curious George (or Ginger)

If there was ever a time to rekindle your relationship with your childish enthusiasm, this is it. Let yourself be awed and inspired. Point wide-eyed at something amazing and exclaim loudly, “that is something cool!” Ask questions – of everyone. Grab the mic at an afternoon panel during Q&A; discover the best local coffee shop from a true Austinite; try a new mode of transportation like a rickshaw or a B-cycle; step outside of your comfort zone and broaden your perspective.

3.     Dress the Part

The women of Sex and the City may have dressed the part in stilettos on the streets of Manhattan, but they wouldn’t last ten minutes in Texas. SX is spread out over miles of the city’s urban terrain. Plan to be hoofing it for 10-15 hours a day. Wear the right shoes. Layer to navigate between the sometimes sweltering outdoors and the always freezing indoor spaces. Comfort and function trump all. This year, it looks like umbrellas will be the hottest accessory (and a potential business opportunity for you entrepreneurial types).

4.     Plan to be Spontaneous

Preparation is important, but so is flexibility. To stay on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed, make a plan. Deciding which sessions you’ll attend is key to getting the most out of the festival. GolinHarris created SX Scout, a digital guide to the top 20 sessions for marketers, to help you. Scouts hand-picked 20 sessions out of more than 850, wrote previews and will be live-tweeting using #SXScout during the festival. Expect that some sessions you want to attend will be full or you’ll see something bigger and better along the way. Go with the flow and be ready to improvise.

5.     Look Up

At a digital, interactive festival, perfecting the balance between the physical and virtual world is challenging. It’s easy to want to be nose down, thumbs at 10:00 and 2:00, following and participating in conversations on your device of choice. Don’t get me wrong. It is important to do that, but make sure to put it down and look around every once in a while. You could be missing out on a great opportunity or discovery right in front of you. Making a connection on a long escalator ride could lead to short sale back at the office. This leads me to my next and final point.

6.     Follow the “512 Rule” (paying homage to Austin’s area code) Every Day

·         Make a point to meet at least five new people every 24 hours. (Grab business cards and scribble notes on the back of them so you’ll remember when and how you met them.)

·         Attend one session daily that is totally out of your comfort zone and outside of your job description.

·         Experience two new technologies each day (a new website, social platform, app, robots, you name it).

Most importantly, have a blast. SX is like nothing you’ve ever experienced and it’s bigger and better every year. If you follow any of my tips or have others of your own, tweet me: @jeffberinger. I’d love to hear how you’re winning SX.

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