Day 5: Recap of SXSW

Posted by Mitchell Communications Group on March 11, 2014

Several Mitchell Communications Group team members are headed home from SXSW, and they recap their highlights from Austin, Texas, in this final entry.

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What a week. As I sit at the airport waiting for my return flight, I finally have a moment to rest my feet and reflect on all that I’ve seen and learned.

recapTo be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the SXSW experience. I had heard stories of late-night parties, celebrity sightings, bags of swag, hundreds of great sessions and equally as many opportunities for networking. Could it all be true? I’m here to say, yes.

I’ll go with superlatives and share a few personal experiences I thought were the hardest, easiest, funniest, most memorable and most interesting.

Choosing sessions was by far the hardest thing for me. There were hundreds of amazing speakers with interesting topics spread across the entire city of Austin – and simply not enough hours in the day. I started the week with a short list of 30 sessions and quickly realized I’d be lucky to make it to three a day. Thank goodness for the SXSW mobile app. It helped me navigate my way through the city and my schedule.

I was surprised how easy it was to meet people. Standing in line, sitting on buses, even waiting for elevators were all opportunities to make connections. I didn’t run into anyone, outside of one person who looked hung over, who wasn’t willing to engage in a quick conversation and share about themselves and their work. I probably learned as much about new technologies and ideas in these engagements as I did in my sessions. I met people from the Netherlands, Norway, Australia, Great Britain and many states around the U.S. It was like an Epcot Center for business.

Probably the funniest thing that happened was catching a cab from our hotel to dinner one night. Stepping into what we thought was a standard cab, it turned out to be a “rave cab” complete with flashing neon lights lining the interior roof and Pitbull blaring at decibels not fit for human ears. We just went with it and laughed and danced our way through town. I mean, when in Austin…

The most memorable experience was meeting Mindy Kaling. I respect her greatly as a writer and successful female in the entertainment industry. When I had the chance to get her autograph and visit for a moment, I was incredibly grateful.

My assumptions attending the interactive portion of SXSW were that I’d learn about all kinds of new platforms and technologies. While I did discover a few new services and hear from people who think beacons are already passé, the one thing everyone was talking about was the need to understand human behavior. This goes down as the most interesting thing I am taking away from this conference. When thinking about how and what to communicate to customers, always remember to be human.

People want their privacy sometimes, so don’t be creepy. People are naturally curious, so offer them something playful. People appreciate honesty, so tell the truth. People like predictability, so help them understand what’s ahead. People need more brands who understand them, so listen.

I’d like to close with a thank you to Mitchell Communications for allowing me to have these incredible experiences. I am headed back feeling excited about my work and optimistic about our industry.

– Kate Andersen, vice president of creative and digital services

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Wow, what an exciting and exhausting five days it has been at SXSW. This is by far the largest conference of any kind that I have ever attended. There are many things here that amazed me, but the the two that stand out most are the number of countries represented and the incredible amount of new technologies being developed.

The first demonstrated how we now operate in a global economy where almost anyone has the ability to create and compete. The latter provides great promise in the things to come through emerging technologies that can serve the masses or s single aspiring musician. There is indeed something for everyone and SXSW does a fantastic job of demonstrating the promise that tomorrow may bring.

Humorous side note: There is no dress code at this event. And it shows. From skimpy to suits, funky to fashionable, you can find it all here.

– Greg Smith, director of marketing

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I'm sitting in the airport as we wait on our return flights and I'm contemplating what my big takeaway is from SXSW 2014. I find myself thinking, expectedly, about convergence. I attended sessions on streamlining digital and physical workflows, art crossing paths with science and the future of technology and entertainment.

With the onset of so much wearable and integrated technology, I suppose I find myself in complete bewilderment about the future. There are so many choices ahead. What wearable device will you commit to track your child's life? Which entertainment console will win out in the end and become the widely accepted norm? What are the tools that you can feel comfortable adopting today that will be around 20 years from now to revisit notes, information and digital possessions? Only the future will tell.

I really feel like this next year will begin to reveal a lot about the future and where we are headed. Adam Savage had one of the most memorable quotes of SXSW when he said that over the past centuries humans have traditionally thought that everything that would be invented or discovered had already been. In that regard, it isn't so much SXSW 2014 that impresses me. What impresses me is thinking about what we could see next year. Here are my top six predictions, in no particular order, for SXSW 2015:

  1. FOMO remedies - There will be a new format for attendees to attend, virtually or otherwise, multiple sessions at once. FOMO – or 'Fear of Missing Out' is a real thing at SXSW, and I bet some companies find some ways to work to solve that.
  2. Watson gives a keynote – Next year will be the year a robot, Android, Siri, Watson or something like it will make its way on stage and give an original or spontaneous speech driven entirely by data mining the event, room or current events.
  3. Wearables will talk to each other - Whether we want them to or not, wearables will begin providing data beyond factoids for their users. Think of the store display that greets Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
  4. Predictable deliveries – At SXSW 2015, you won't have to go to find food or a ride, they will find you. 7/Eleven and Chevy started it this year and last, but look for widespread adoption next year.
  5. Gaming, Tech/Digital, Film, Music – Next year, SXSW should split the current interactive conference into Gaming and Tech/Digital. The Gaming expo is massive in and of itself and draws an entirely unique crowd. The term interactive is a little dated and it is time to update.
  6. The Rise and Fall – There was an undercurrent of disgust at SXSW, especially on Secret.ly, the app that allows for anonymous posting. Complaints about sending too many people to the event, the overrun nature of the city, people behaving badly, etc. is a real threat the conference's ability to continue delivering. Next year will be massive, but the event will, inevitably reach a peak; and unless some changes start happening next year, it might be the onset of people not caring to go.

– Jameson Sheppard, associate creative director

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Going to SXSW is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. There’s so much going on that while you may fret that you’re missing out on one thing, there’s always something else that take its place. It’s a visual and informational overload, but in the best way.

There are so many people there, and not just from the U.S. I heard different languages spoken all around me. Also, there’s not another experience you can have where you meet the type of people you meet here. I chatted with a seasoned digital professional, visited with the founder of a brand I absolutely adore, and met and had my picture taken with one of my role models. If you were to tell me that I would be able to meet these people and the others, I would probably laugh in your face and tell you to not drink the Kool-Aid.

It was inspiring to see how brands integrated their products and offerings into your life, as if it were seamless and something that was always there. Most brands brought their A-game (hello A&E, FX, and IBM). The session topics were varied and appealed to just about anyone. Every little digital community was represented. I loved it.

Overall this was a fantastic trip, one I hope to repeat in the future and highly recommend that everyone visit at least once in their life. I know that may sound cheesy and generic, but really it's hard to describe all that is SXSW. Once you've been you'll know what I'm talking about.

-- Ann Hecksher, digital and social media account coordinator