Greetings from Austin.
The general sentiment at SXSW is everyone is waiting for the big news of the year, and for the second event in a row, the general feeling is that it’s not going to happen this year.
Unfortunately, the lack of splash casts a pall over the event. Additionally, the keynote lineup has slipped this year. But then again, how do you compete with Obama from last year’s conference? Or live streaming Edward Snowden in from a secret Russian location like they did in 2015. Or Star Wars: The Force Awakens Director J.J. Abrams. Or Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone talking about combining humanity with technology.
Admittedly, many of the panels disappointed me. The SX sports content seems to be flooded with expert panelists who think that stating that people watch sport differently in 2017 than 1987 is somehow a breakthrough. At one panel, I tweeted the speakers to ask a leading question to see if they would get back on their stated topic. They read my question aloud and then answered it by going even farther off topic. I really think SX needs to find a better quality control model. One thing is clear; many panelists are first-time speakers, who forget the audience often has more experience than them. They don’t realize their job was to research, craft, and present a very tight point of view or personal experiences that will provoke thought and discussion. Instead, many of them turn into a cliché recital.
Fortunately, I went to a Meetup on Sports & New Media that provided some more interesting perspectives. Meetups are great, because everybody talks, or can if they want. The discussion, led by the NFL Networks Jane Slater, focused on Twitter and its use by sports journalists, teams, athletes, and brands. What made it special is there were attendees there from a Mexican-based online soccer forum (no word on how they snuck past Trump into Austin), a Marketer from the German Bundesliga, programmers from SRC in Montreal, and an Irish journalist.
The SXSW Trade Show always has some gems and this year it was Pincause. Started by a former management consultant turned world saviour, the concept is simple. Buy a pin and the funds go to important causes. My pin was in support of refugees. The Pincause booth featured delegate created artwork pinned to a content wall. I got chatty with some others at the booth who immediately grilled me on my views on their POTUS (That has been a recurring theme this week. As soon as people discover I’m a Canadian, they express their love and jealousy of Justin Trudeau and want to know what we Canucks thought of their conundrum). I decided to open my arms to my newfound troubled American friends and drew a Canadian flag with a blue border inviting them to come visit…and stay for a while. The Pincause team was pleased with my quick adoption of their values.
Pfizer impressed me with their activation communicating the Global Goals of the United Nations. I decidedly was not shy about grilling the Community Relations rep about their reason for being at SXSW. It’s an interesting way to activate a partnership. They’ve decided to attend trade and consumer shows attended by influential people, in this case marketers and innovators, to showcase the UN partnership. Pfizer seems to have a healthy dose (I made THAT pun without even realizing it) of self-awareness that they can be perceived as a big bad money gouging pharma company. Shrewd of them to not only invest in a worthy cause, but to be unafraid to toot their horn about their involvement
The best stat I heard this week is that there are 350 parties that occur in Austin around Southby. Everyone has a party. Telefilm Canada. Music Export Canada. Fuse Canada (Where was my invite Nicole Galluci?). Washington DC Events. Mazda. National Geographic. Pandora. Samsung. German Haus. Many of them have created their own custom event spaces. Mazda had an amazing studio and a music lineup that would crush many festivals. Events DC has a prime outdoor space right across from the convention centre. National Geographic, yes National Geographic too, had a multistory space on Dirty 6th (yes the locals call it Dirty and it is) where they were getting rave reviews for the best drinks in the city. I went for the cover shot (not a drink), an unreal AR Experience, and the Einstein Chalkboard robot. The latter was super cool. Consumers were asked to tweet a head shot to NG and then the robot arm would draw your portrait in chalk. They even set you a prompt to come back to the space when your old-school selfie was being produced.
My Apple Watch, Nike edition (hopefully this plug will get me some brand cred) says I tallied 15,773 steps today for 10.94 K of travelling. It was worth it to find these tasty morsels.