My biggest issue with the overall conference is the flow and layout that covers a wide swath of downtown Austin. I found myself spending 80% of my time walking to get to an experience, activation, or session – 20% of my time was experience-based. I appreciate that SXSW is helping me meet my ’Steps’ goal on my Apple Watch, but for the amount of money I spent and even more valuable, the amount of time spent, I was quite frustrated. I had the Platinum Pass and I do not believe it was worth the $1,400 I spent. When I would finally arrive to a session I was interested in, more often than not it was full. I spent a good bit of time preparing ahead of time. I created a customized Google Map just for the conference that dotted downtown Austin with venues & locations and yet I still felt like I was zigzagging around and yet I never got anywhere worthwhile. I’m fortunate enough to live here so I know my way around downtown; I can’t imagine what it’s like for a first timer who isn’t familiar with the city.
As an events and activation planner, it’s so hard to attend something like this and not have an opinion. As a whole, even the majority of the activations felt subpar. I didn’t entirely understand their purpose for being at SXSW other than just to say they are there. Most of them struck me as a waste of marketing dollars. I wanted them to be so much more.
If I have a client that is interested in activating at SXSW, I would want to squeeze every drop of value out of being there and I certainly wouldn’t want to offer a negative experience. If a brand wants you to come visit their activation, it has to offer something in return. Don’t make people register for your event; then send them emails and survey questions that they have to complete ahead of time, then make them stand in a long line, and offer them a drink and some plain almonds when they finally *do* make it in. That’s not a positive experience.
I think the Dolby Activation was the standout – that one delivered on a terrific immersive experience that was really informative and I walked out learning a few new things about Dolby’s current offerings.
The best activation for the money is Brand Innovators which has a smaller multi-day conference in conjunction with SXSW at Lambert’s. Brand Innovators is tailored to brands & marketers alone; they don’t allow 3rd party services because they want their guests to be comfortable knowing they’re not going to experience umpteen sales efforts. Candidly, I suggest that some of the brands that are activating at SX consider a sponsorship package with Brand Innovators. It won’t make sense for every brand, but I bet it’s less expensive for a Brand Innovators sponsorship and if your brand is a service that targets marketers, this gives you direct access to many decision makers within those brands. (Note: this is not a paid endorsement – this is based solely on my opinion.)
I’m sure there are others who will strongly disagree with me but, unless you are a true SXSW aficionado OR you’re a VIP that gets access to everything without paying or making much effort, the SX experience is overwhelming and daunting.