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Five ways to stand out from the crowd at SXSW

For businesses of all sizes, SXSW is undoubtedly a crucial opportunity to gain media and consumer attention while showing off your brand and making connections with industry leaders from around the world. However, with endless opportunities to capture attention comes a sea of competition. SXSW provides the right space and context for companies to make a name for themselves, but without a proper game plan, those opportunities can quickly become overwhelming with others seeking a piece of the same pie.

As a strategic communications firm that specializes in technology – and the agency of record for the SXSW Accelerator and Health and MedTech Expo – we make it our goal to know the strategies, techniques and tricks of the trade that can optimize marketing return on investment and make brands stand out in a sea of investors, competitors, parties and events.

While there are a number of ways to prepare, we have compiled our top five tips to help you take full advantage of the networking and marketing opportunities that the festival has to offer:

Tip 1: Don’t Wait Until SXSW to Connect
Whether you are a senior exec of a major company or a startup looking to be ‘discovered,’ SXSW can be the most impactful festival your company attends all year—if you prepare. The key is not waiting until the last minute to connect. Before SXSW, study the list of speakers for key connections that could be advantageous to your business and reach out to them via SXSocial and LinkedIn. Send them a message showing how a meeting will be valuable to them (not you). You can also set alerts in HootSuite and start looking for people that will be there now to set appointments and connect with on site. Start this now!

Tip 2: Join the Conversation
As we speak there is already a huge amount of SXSW-related content circulating on the web (you’re reading this blog post aren’t you?). Content is an important way for you to articulate your value proposition and make a pitch to your ideal new partners, if crafted correctly. Use social media platforms to compose and share posts using the #SXSWi hashtag along with hashtags relevant to your industry. Write and share compelling content that will drive your target audience to you, instead of just doing generic shout-outs to come to your booth. During SXSW, you can continue to use trending hashtags to draw traffic to your booth, giving current followers information about giveaways and events while drawing in new followers. By utilizing social media in a strategic and engaging way, you can attract attendees while increasing your online presence and SEO in the process.

Tip 3: Mingle with Influencers in Your Field at a Variety of Events (A.K.A Party Like It’s Hot)
SXSW is famous for parties. The week is host to a wide array of networking and social events – both public and private – that focus on different issues and industries. It’s crucial that you identify, sign up early (they get full fast) and attend the events most aligned with your business interest. Strategize ways you can connect with the organizers of key events before they begin, if it is a key event you may also want to look at becoming a co-sponsor. Make sure you share the events you attend over social media, utilizing those key hashtags to increase connectivity with others. If your company has several people attending, adopt a ‘divide and conquer’ tactic – don’t all attend the one event unless it is the event for your industry, and if you do all attend, don’t hang out together talking in-house shop. Once there, it is likely going to be a game of chance finding the right connections, so do all you can to set meetings with key people before the event as well as, where possible, researching people (and their appearance) beforehand so you can make a targeted approach. Along with the planned conferences, don’t be afraid to be swept away into the more colorful events that you don’t hear about in the event schedules. Creating a loose schedule is important so don’t force yourself into an agenda you can’t keep, and be flexible enough to change plans based on the most desirable business outcomes.

Tip 4: Be Part of the Larger Story
As a PR firm that specializes in working with innovative brands from around the globe, we are often asked what is the key to getting a reporter’s attention at SXSW. While some reporters use the SXSocial App it can be hard to get a hold of them before the event and even harder to keep their attention with so many brands vying for the spotlight. We recommend being on the lookout for media badges and doing your best to start an intelligent conversation—one that asks about them and their publication, as opposed to jumping into what you do and pitching them a story. Many reporters see themselves as writers —artists even— and a compliment can go a long way. If you are lucky enough to find and keep a reporter’s attention, make sure to ask what topics most interest them and their audience. Only then should you pitch them in the context of what they are reporting. Leverage PR also creates media kits for clients to place on thumb drives for journalists, providing all the information they need for a story. SXSW is busy, and it will be hard to find time to sit down and email a reporter what they need for a story if they are on deadline. If you have a media kit with high resolution screen shots, bios and key data points, you will be at a distinct advantage.

Tip 5: Turn Your Cards into Connections
You’ve attended the conferences, you’ve collected phone numbers and emails, and now it’s time to follow up. We recommend folding a corner or writing notes on the cards of people you want to build a stronger relationship with, that way you can quickly follow up with the highest-priority people. All of the business cards in the world won’t mean anything if you don’t take the extra step to turn the people behind the cards into business partners and connections. Just as you do for media practitioners, it is wise to have a pocketful of thumb drives with key company information to give to the most desirable new connections. While you might be excited to connect, wait a few days for people to get caught up at work, then reach out to the contacts you made over email and add them on LinkedIn to let them know it was great to meet them. Let them know the value you can provide in the relationship by doing a favor for high potential people. If you meet members of the media at SXSW, for example, go read one of their stories. Share it over social media and leave a comment on the bottom about how great it was to meet them. Do this before pitching them on a story as they are likely to have a lot of people pitching them at this time. The rest of the connections should go into your database or be connected with on social media for long time lead nurturing.

If you heed these tips, you will be using your time and budget at SXSW to their full potential. With the festival already around the corner, it’s time to start making a plan that integrates these strategies so that your brand will be at the top of everyone’s mind.