In a little over a week, I’ll be heading down to Austin for SXSW 2019, and this will be the fourth year of our Amplify Philly activations, and the second year that we’ll have an Amplify Philly House. I love Amplify Philly so much my wife and kids are getting jealous, and almost as much as I love the word “jawn” (see my post 9 Reasons We're Amped to be Amplifying Philly at SXSW for more on why I love this jawn so hard).
Prior to each Amplify Philly, we have an orientation for those who are joining us in Austin, and I am tasked with helping the “noobs” prepare for this completely consuming event. So without further ado, I present to you: Alex U-A’s Guide for Achieving the Awesomest Austin Adventure of All Time at SXSW Interactive.
First of all, it’s important to note that SXSW isn’t even one conference, it’s actually two major conferences that occur back to back – SXSW Interactive is (mostly) from March 8th to March 12th, while SXSW Music is (mostly) from March 11th to March 17th. There are also several smaller events that take place at the same time as the two larger events that cover Gaming, EDU, and Film. Note that while some of this info is for all of SXSW, the Music portion of the event is many times larger than Interactive, with a very different vibe and very different activations (more music, much less free food, and drinks). You can find an overview of all the different conferences, festivals, and such here.
With that said, SXSW is massive, covering most of West and East Austin as well as the South Congress and Boudin areas of the city (at least 3 miles “wide”, and similar distance “long”). Comprehending the true scale of it is tough, so to put it in Philly context, it’s width is equivalent to the distance between Penn’s landing and 40th and Walnut (i.e. the conference is spread out across an area that would encompass all of Downtown Philly and much of University City).
The conference centers around the Austin Convention Center, which is where the Registration and the SXSW Trade Show are located, and which is where many of the conference sessions are held, though many of the conference venues also host events.
Tips for getting the most out of sessions
- The expo center is great for in between sessions
- Create your desired session schedule beforehand, though don’t be surprised if you only see a fraction of them
- Download and use the SXSW GO Mobile App- it will help you greatly while you’re on the scene
- Expect lines for popular sessions, and arrive very early if it’s important you think it’s going
Marketing Activations, Concerts, and Parties
While the conference sessions are seriously amazing, what makes SXSW so unique (and large) are the marketing activations and parties, including Amplify Philly. Some of the activations are part of the official event, but many are not “official” events. They range in size from small installations in restaurants, to immersive VR experiences of Westworld, to giant replicas of Coney Island complete with a giant ferris-wheel and arcade (for a Mr. Robot activation). I have been more blown away by the marketing activations than anything else I’ve seen at any event, and this is also where you’ll be likely to receive the most awesome swag, best food, and most drinks (by volume) you’ve ever been offered at an event.
And while SXSW might not officially be a music event, there are usually an incredible amount of concerts and parties to enjoy. If you are like me, you may even try to party for 20 hours straight.
Marketing activation and party tips
- Sign up for as many of these side events as you can. While signing up won’t guarantee you entry, not signing up is a sure way to kill your chances of getting in
- Get on VIP lists if you can, and trade your VIP tickets if you have any (and if you don’t, sponsor Amplify Philly and you’ll be in like Flynn!)
- Find events on Do512.com and the SXSW site/app
- Pick one or two events to put in your “must go to” list, and then get to those places early as you can to ensure you get in
- Use Twitter to locate free events before and after the conference
- If you’re lazy, try using RSVPster to help you out, but it won’t get you in a lot of the funnestplaces
- Don’t spend the entire day and night at the Amplify Philly house, even though it’s the most fun activation and party at SXSW
- Dance and get silly - just because it’s work doesn’t mean it’s not fun
As the Original Walking Snob™ I try to get around SXSW as much as possible by foot, but even us walking snobs have to resort to other modes of transportation at times. When not walking, here are the options for getting around.
- Ride Sharing. This year, Lyft and Uber have returned to Austin, so you can use these international chains. However, I also recommend giving the local non-profit ride-sharing service Ride Austin a try.
- Bike share
- SXSW Shuttles
- Austin City Metro
What to wear
When you think of Austin you probably think “hot and humid”, or at least “nice and warm”, but the weather can be really unpredictable at this time of year. The first time I went to SX there was an inch of snow in Dallas, which of course shut that city down for like two days, and it was cold, rainy, and very flooded. Other times I’ve gone it’s been close to summer (in Philly) hot, and dusty to boot. Come prepared for the elements.
Make sure you bring
- At least two pairs of very comfortable shoes
- Comfortable clothing
- Warm clothes
- Rain gear
- Branded shirts to represent your organization/company/city
Leave at home
- A suit or tie- Austin is weird and so can you!
- Uncomfortable shoes
- Heels, and not just because they’ll be uncomfortable- Austin’s streetscape is definitely not always the most navigable, and some sidewalks are somehow up a set of stairs from the street
- Any shirts you might have that discuss Dallas, Texas, the Cowboys, etc. sucking
Food and Drinks
SXSW sometimes feels to me like some kind of drunk corporate utopia, where the drinks flow freely, and the food does too (though not as often or as much, so BEWARE!). I’m always amazed by the numbers of beers and other drinks I’m offered throughout the day, and also by how often those are not accompanied by food. But, besides the official events, there’s still Austin’s amazing restaurant and food truck scene, so do not allow yourself to get too drunk or too tired but eating entirely too little.
Tips for getting ALL THE FOODS AND DRINKS
- Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Letting it all out on day one is a recipe for a very tired week
- Don’t assume a restaurant you want to go to will be open. Many restaurants are closed for marketing activations, so you may need to do some investigation and/or social engineering to find out a way into some places
- If you’re there with a broader group, like Amplify Philly, let others in your group know about where the good foods are at when you find them
- Follow Free@SXSW on Twitter for real-time reports of free food
SXSW is like the marketing Olympics for tech companies, digital agencies, media conglomerates, and those that love them.
You are here to meet people and chew gum, and you’re all out of gum, so… go forth and meet!
Make new friends… If you are looking to expand your network, this is the place to do it.
- Fill in your SXSW Social profile and use it to look up and “star” people
- Reach out to people who are speaking or attending whom you want to meet via email, Twitter, Instagram, carrier pigeon, etc
- Use tools like DataNyze & DataFox to connect with prospects and leads
- Find new partners: we’ve gotten a good amount of work from other attendees and sponsors and so can you (maybe)!
But keep the old ones… this is an incredible place to reconnect with old friends, and while it may seem like an odd place to deepen your connections to your local tech/design/music/innovation scene, something about being so far away from home with a bunch of your “local” compatriots that solidifies and deepens connections
- Tell your networks you’re attending
- Focus on strengthening local or business ties
- Invite all your friends to our parties, and give them VIP tickets if you’ve got them (and if you don’t, sponsor Amplify Philly!)
- Sell to me! Well, maybe not me, but look around for partners and potential customers