Monday, March 20, 2017

Live from Austin, Texas: Cindy Lo Reports from SXSW

SXSW 2017 just concluded - we asked our friend Cindy Y. Lo, DMCP President & Event Strategist from Red Velvet Events in Austin, TX, to share the latest news.

Cindy has 14 years of hands-on experience, either producing SXSW related events or attending the conference and festival, for "unparalleled discovery, networking, and inspiration".
It's also about having fun, as you will see!

We are happy to share Cindy's expert report.

Cindy: "We have been going to SXSW for 14 years and we have seen it change, as in "grow"! Obviously, the interactive events became more popular over the years. Attendance has grown dramatically. As the conference and festival expanded, we were getting more agency work.

Attendance was up again this year, but the event aspects involving local help of SXSW decreased. In previous years, the conference was always incredibly chaotic for us. This year, my team could handle our workload very well, allowing me to actually attend the conference. On one hand, our team has grown, so we can handle a bigger workload. But since I heard from multiple local agencies that they, too, were not as busy, I started to wonder what may be the cause. Perhaps this is the necessary correction we needed after all these consecutive growth years."

"This is an example of the activations we had grown accustomed to as SXSW grew over the years, but surprisingly there were not as many this year. And when they did happen, they only lasted a maximum of 3 days, instead of the whole week-and-a-half in the past.

We are still wondering about the reasons. Did companies cut their budgets or did they just not get the ROI they anticipated and desired? Or did they just cut down on activations and events due to the new permit regulations? SXSW has always been a decent indicator for us on how our year will shape up. Next year will really tell. If the trend continues, we’ll definitely have to pivot our position. Again, I feel that the conference itself was very strong, but have the local event needs changed?"

The Trends
"I saw a lot more augmented reality, and more virtual reality head sets everywhere. The more it is out there, the more the prices are going to come down to reasonable levels, and the more people will bring VR into their event. One great example was D.C. House. They invited you to get on a bike and put on the head set and start pedaling. It gave you the experience of riding a bike in D.C. which is a great use of VR.  I think more companies will bring this kind of experience to their events, but the price point has not come down quite as much as I would like to make it affordable for everybody."

Cindy laughs: "You would have felt left out if your booth did not have VR! Every activation I went to had some form of it.
One great example: Spredfast, an Austin-based technology company, did a great job with their activation. They provide social media analytics for large retailers, media partners such as ESPN, any business that has an online presence. Each year during SXSW, they host a 3-day "Social Suite" at their offices in Downtown Austin where guests can just relax and enjoy social media friendly activities. This year women could get their hair braided and some nail art while Men could get a trim; best part was that the services were provided by a local barber shop. Spredfast had a beautiful dessert station where you could create your own dessert. And throughout the suite attendees were encouraged to post the experiences to their social media and use the hashtags. Spredfast displayed an analytical wall that showed how many times the items were posted and how far it reached. They showed off their product and gave clients a very good reason to come to their offices!"

"I did see a slight increase in vehicles, wrapped and just driving around Downtown Austin's traffic - think "mobile billboard". This is, again, nothing new, but it's effective."

The Themes:
"We saw a lot of jungle, natural plants and earth themes. It seems that everyone wants to be one with earth at this time. Everyone had dramatic green decor. Maybe it is a good counter balance to all the cold metal."

"We had a blast at the Mashable Photo Booth! Mashable always knows how to capture the pop culture moment! The Beyonce reveal happened less than a month before SXSW. Mashable reacted immediately. Everyone took this fun photo. Here it is our Red Velvet team member LeeAnn."

Cindy: "It was interesting and enjoyable for me to be an attendee this year, versus a producer. I got to experience the conference from the other side. I took lots of mental notes, about what worked and what did not from the attendee point of view.

I think pricing around SXSW events and venues needs to get back in line with norms - prices outstripped value this year and a lot of spaces went unused as a result.  Permitting requirements have gotten more stringent, which cuts down on last minute activations - no last minute permitting allowed.  And there are just fewer open spaces to get street-level visibility. Maybe Austin needed a year to step back and re-assess - or maybe the big corporations needed a breather as the sponsorships and events rotate to a new set of innovators and brands.

I will definitely remain in observation mode the next couple of years to see where events at SXSW are going. Was this year just a correction or a blip? Austin is a great city. Downtown is so pedestrian-friendly. Attendees can walk everywhere. There is so much brain power in Austin; the University, technology companies and SXSW. And people here are really friendly.  Austin and SXSW have real value for sponsors and attendees. My prediction: 2018 brings a moderation in prices, and an increase in event activations, which will be great news for everyone."

A Texas-sized THANK YOU to Cindy for taking the time to share her experiences and insight!

Wishing everyone a fabulous week!

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