Austin, TX: This year I made the pilgrimage to the annual expo known as South by South West (SXSW). As one of the Executive leads of Equipment Innovation at PepsiCo, I was there to showcase examples of innovation in marketing equipment, specifically our Smart Digital Cooler and Social Vending Machine concepts. PepsiCo is a platinum sponsor of SXSW, so we had a large corner of the Austin Convention center dedicated as Pepsi Central, with our digital marketing equipment, the Zeitgeist, and Pepsi Central Digital Message Board.
In addition to working, I was able to enjoy panels, sessions, and parties at SXSW. It was definitely an interesting and memorable experience, and here are a few of my observations about the event.
Fortunately, I arrived on Thursday and checked in early for my badge. My total wait time was less than 10 minutes as I waited in the ‘Platinum Sponsors’ lounge for my badge to be printed. Folks on Friday were not as fortunate. The line wrapped around the entire convention center, twice. There was roughly a 2+ hour wait for attendees to get their badges. For a conference that has a huge interactive component to it, I would have expected a much more efficient registration process. They might want to take a page out of the book of CES and consider mailing out badges ahead of the conference. For badges that cost $400 – $1,000, that would be a comparatively small incremental cost for a significantly improved user registration experience.
Panels and Keynotes:
The sheer number of panels was a bit overwhelming. The first time I went to the SXSW website to investigate the panels which I was interested in attending, I selected a dozen from the list, before I realized they all occurred simultaneously. You have to plan well ahead of time to see the panels that are of most interest to you, especially since the panels are spread across Austin. Fortunately, the SXSW organizers had great apps for both iPad and Windows Phone 7, which helped tremendously in discovering and scheduling panels of interest. I had an interesting conversation with someone I reconnected with at SXSW. She mentioned the she and her husband no longer go to panels because they get well-recognized folks who don’t prepare, and since the moderators are talking to well-known figures, they don’t prepare either. That was an interesting perspective that I actually experienced on one of the panels, but I wouldn’t say it was the norm.
I plan to write about some of the panels and keynotes I attended on a separate blog post. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I was impressed with the list of individuals that were tapped to speak at SXSW. The sessions I was treated to included appearances by Biz Stone (founder of Twitter), Bing Gordon (EA legend), Al Gore, Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame), Andy Cohen (Bravo), and others.
There was certainly no lack of evening events at SXSW with many sponsoring and non-sponsoring organizations hosting some impressive soirees. I attended two hosted by PepsiCo (one with Turntable.fm and the other with Star Wars and Brisk). I also attended the Tweethouse Tweetup and a few others. I’ll say that most were really not my scene (large mosh-pits of music where it’s really impossible to talk to anyone). The Tweetup had a good music act but also the opportunity to converse with attendees and was held in an interesting spot (Lance Armstrong’s Bike Shop). Easily my favorite was the Brisk Bodega sponsored by PepsiCo and Lucas and featuring Star Wars artwork and Brisk Star Wars TV Spots. They had a great DJ playing the bottom floor, but also an open-air upper level allowing you to connect with attendees.
Unfortunately, my only experience with SXSW film screenings was just how hard it was to get into them. I only tried to get into two, and the lines literally wrapped around the block. It’s a shame because there seemed to be a really good selection of films there, but I no longer have the time or patience to form a queue two hours in advance of a film. I ended up just taking pictures of the film posters to remind myself of the ones I wanted to see eventually. One of those films was ‘The Hunter’ with William Dafoe. Scheduling didn’t work out, but when I got home this weekend, I noticed on my Xbox 360 Zune Video Marketplace that I could actually watch the film before it hits theaters. Sometimes it’s just worth paying for stuff.