Each year I eagerly await and anxiously plan my annual trips to Austin, TX for South by Southwest, known for being the cat’s meow of all nerd conferences. Where brands, marketers, technologists, and innovative startups intersect. The intensity and caliber of innovative technology and services that come out each year leave me in a head spin for months, trying to reconnect and stay close to those brilliant minds so I can personally watch their ideas expand and erupt. It was, for a time, hands down an experience unlike any other I’ve ever had in my life.
After starting a new gig only a month before SX, my lead time for planning and scheduling was significantly shorter than typically preferred, and somehow I didn’t even make it on the Mashable VIP list (I’m kidding,…sort of.) because I couldn’t get my ducks in a row fast enough. And the more I researched SX, the more I felt my days slip away down one rabbit hole after the next. One event lead to another to another panel, to an offsite event 12 miles away, and don’t forget the mixer, and the BBQ, and the wine event, and the….
…I was completely exhausted before I even stepped foot in to Austin. I knew this event that I had held so close as a tight community, a place to re-connect, had shifted into something much different and larger. I knew it wasn’t going to feel the same, and no amount of planning was going to change that.
So, I headed with my business partner down (and first time SX’er) to Austin, with enthusiasm and optimism, giving him the best tips a veteran possibly could.
“Don’t feel like you have to be everywhere, because you won’t…” “Be sure to make time for panels that you really think are interesting…” “Spend some time where the startup folks are hanging out and just soak up their energy…” “Pace yourself…” “Drink lots of water…” “Take naps when you need to…”
But when we stepped of the plane, none of that mattered. This event had become massive to epic proportions that were unfathomable. Brands, startups, social media gurus, and marketers everywhere. And every-so-often I ran a veteran geek or technologist, with their eyes wide and clear they were clearly as confused as I was by the scale of what this event had become.
Random Industry Person I only see at SX But Love: Jessica, I’m leaving early. This is insanity. It doesn’t feel like I can derive any value from something that’s become…..so……so saturated.
Me: Oh, c’mon! It was inevitable. They all wanted a taste of awesome, I can’t blame them I guess. I just think it feels worse because of the rain.
Let it be known that it DOWNPOURED for the first two days keeping everyone in the entire universe tucked in doors making everyone feel a little tinge of “The Shining” attitude. Note: It wasn’t a good look on Jack Nicholson, and it wasn’t a good look on SXSW goers, either.
RIPIOSASXBL: Jess, whatever. I already booked a flight back for tomorrow. I saw you, I saw some folks. I just don’t have the patience to swim through this crowd. Did you see the line for badge pick up? It was a THREE HOUR wait. We can’t even hang in the Driskill to have our annual glass of wine on a sofa because there a bouncer to get in to this bar. That is not what I want or need in this kind of event.
Me: Oy. Well, I wish you’d consider staying.
RIPIPSASXBL: We have Twitter. And phone. And e-mail. And Skype.
Me (pathetically): We had Sx.
RIPIPSASXBL: Had being the key word.
There was no denying, this year was really different, and for brands trying to cut through clutter during Interactive, they were up against quite a challenge. Although, a few brands like American Express with their Jay-Z concert, and Turntable.FM (client) larger avatar heads roaming the ground stuck out more than most.
And trying not to be a downer and feel the woes of longing for the SXSW of yesteryear, I forced myself to take a few days and really think about why this trip still garnered value. And as cliche and obvious as this is going to sound, it really is all about the incredible people.
Sure, there are more of them, and finding the great ones make take some digging, but with determination and a positive attitude, I walked away with some connections that undoubtedly will afford me with the opportunity to watch those individuals ideas take root and expand into incredible spaces — true to the SXSW promise.