Each March, diverse groups from across the tech, film, and music industries descend on Austin, Texas, at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals. Founded in 1987, SXSW celebrates the convergence of these key industries in a festival that covers the entire city. With 72,000 registrants in 2019, SXSW is “the premier destination for global thought leaders working on new ideas to build a better future.” SXSW attracts diverse attendees ranging from the mainstream population, and tech and industry media, to tech businesses, artists, and party-goers, all looking to discover the next new thing, be it talent, ideas, or inspiration. A speaking session at SXSW offers a remarkable opportunity to showcase your expertise, and there are a number of ways to make the most of it [View our case study].
Landing an opportunity to speak at SXSW is no easy feat. In 2019, more than 5,000 proposals were submitted for roughly 600 sessions. These sessions highlighted creativity, innovation, and inspiration across the festival from thought leaders in almost every industry including technology, science, art, music, film, and business. So first off, congratulations on your phenomenal success of landing a speaking slot!
You’ve secured a speaking slot. Now what?
Participating in SXSW is not an inexpensive endeavor. Once your coveted spot has been secured, you want to be sure to maximize every opportunity available to highlight both your session, and the expertise and thought leadership that got you there. Developing a comprehensive promotional strategy beginning in the months leading up to and during SXSW is key. The goal should be not only to promote your session but ultimately position your speaker as a thought-leading, authoritative resource in your industry to the broad and varied audience you may not otherwise have an opportunity to get in front of.
Heading into SXSW
Leading up to SXSW, build momentum by utilizing a variety of marketing and PR tools that include blogs, traditional media, email marketing, social media and more.
- With media, seek interview opportunities with a variety of targeted business and industry outlets using your SXSW session topic to garner interest. During the interview, share your expertise and thought-provoking approach to your business in a 1:1 exchange that will ultimately result in an article that highlights the conversation.
- Industry blogs, podcasts, and contributed article placements in critical publications offer an opportunity to delve more deeply into topics relevant to your expertise and your SXSW session topic alike.
- All this great coverage should then be incorporated into a comprehensive social media campaign that’s shared broadly across multiple platforms. Creating hashtags and tagging relevant publications and industry influencers increases the reach of these posts.
- Blogs on your website and LinkedIn offer yet another way to showcase your presence at SXSW and leadership in your field.
- Social media lends itself well to imagery, so consider creating compelling graphics to accompany social posts that highlight the speaker and topic.
Maximizing your on-site presence
Onsite, SXSW offers many, many opportunities to maximize your presence. The SXSW website is a great source of information, as is its Twitter feed. Monitoring relevant hashtags will help ensure you don’t miss out. Lounges and special events within the conference offer additional opportunities to engage in less formal settings. And because of the large number of attendees gathered in one spot, ancillary events tend to pop up that provide potential to land another speaking session. Look for these well in advance on the SXSW website and pay attention to news leading up to the conference, as pop-up opportunities will undoubtedly arise.
Media attending SXSW come in every flavor – broadcast, print, digital, podcast, radio – from every corner of the world. And because you’re all in the same place at the same time, scheduling face-to-face meetings while at SXSW is highly recommended. To help in this effort, SXSW maintains a list of media attendees which is available to badge holders. While it can be challenging to comb through this massive list, it’s a treasure trove of information about media attendees, such as what they’re interested in talking about while at the conference, and any specific opportunities they may have. It also provides a way to connect with the media to schedule an on-site meeting. Having a private meeting space at the convention center or in a nearby hotel is ideal, but grabbing a seat in the hallway or at the Starbucks next door works too.
Of course, there are literally tons of parties happening all over the city during SXSW. Attending parties is a fantastic way to let off steam and have some fun, but be on the lookout for media, influencers, and essential business contacts whom might also be in attendance. Impromptu meetings and conversations provide unparalleled opportunities to begin a relationship with an important contact, and perhaps share a bit of your expertise. And don’t forget to join the online conversation by live Tweeting and posting on your social platforms from the event, using plenty of photos, of course!
SXSW can be overwhelming (and perhaps even intimidating) but having a comprehensive game plan in place will enable you to maximize the tremendous opportunity for the exposure that it offers. March will be here before we know it. Let the planning begin!