What began as a local Austin music festival in 1986 just wrapped up its 30th
year as the go-to event for music, film and technology.
I’m the COO and managing director of a communications firm in real estate, public affairs, energy, transportation, higher education and non-profits. I was
never able to justify taking the advice of associates and friends to attend the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. I couldn’t see how hobnobbing with
startups and techies would benefit our firm or clients.
However, I grew more and more curious about SXSW.and finally booked a ticket and headed down to Austin. Days before my trip, SXSW announced that President
Obama would be its keynote speaker. Clearly, this music festival had grown—and might just well be worth my time and energy.
Every minute of the weekend was jam-packed with meetings, panels, introductions, dinners, conversations, coffees and meetups. It far exceeded my every
Here are three important takeaways for PR pros from this year’s festival:
1. The PR industry and media landscape change too quickly to play catch-up. We must aggressively get ahead of both.
We tell clients to consider us their backroom communications strategists. We want to help them make their most important business decisions.
To do that, we must be experts in our clients’ industries, while remaining aware of the changing media as well as advertising, tech, consumer and public
policy. Clients expect PR campaigns to cover several platforms, and PR reps must understand every platform to use them effectively.
SXSW offers an invaluable chance to better understand the digital media. It shines a light on industry trends. What I learned at the festival will
undoubtedly prove beneficial in our dealings with clients for months to come.
2. Startup tech companies are not as isolated as we believe. Many tech entrepreners look for chances to collaborate.
I was astonished not only at the massive growth of tech and digital, but at the festival’s comradery, cohesiveness and collaboration. Never had I been to a
conference where so many people wanted to make intimate connections and be so helpful—for no reasons other than shared experiences and a sincere interest
in each other’s work and success.
Often, organizations navigating legislation and policies while struggling to enter new markets do not know where to turn for advice. SXSW is a huge
opportunity for firms to learn strategic business development.
3. The tech industry grows and changes daily.
Almost every organization on the Internet considers itself a "tech company.” The services they seek from PR firms are different; many might not even
realize this. PR firms need to be aware of these shifts to earn reputations as smart, strategic firms that can tackle difficult challenges and create new
The focus of SXSW has shifted dramatically. The fact that the president felt it was worth his time to speak to this crowd about how
technology could help government is astounding. Mr. Obama aside, the conference was full of lobbyists, real estate companies, multi-national food service
companies and representatives from municipal governments. They went to Austin because that is where the conversations affecting their cities, their
companies or their customers took place—and they needed to be a part of it.
John F. Marino is chief operating officer and managing director of Marino, a New York City-based communications firm. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnMarino32.