SHIFTxSW – See Y’all Next Year

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Sunday marked the final day of SXSW. For those keeping track at home, that would be 14 days (across EDU, Interactive, and Music & Film) of the annual festival taking over the streets, hotels and businesses of Austin, TX. Don’t worry, this is not another “Don’t move here” rant from a resident to attendees – instead, it is more to reinforce what you are dealing with when thinking of participating, speaking or attending SXSW. These two weeks are more than a conference, a festival or gathering – it is a true “experience” that puts every one of your five senses to the test. Much like an Austin hipster, people will say they “attended SX when” or will complain the event is not what it used to be. However, what they should focus on is: what has the event become; who does it cater to; is it relevant for my brand or my employees? In case you missed it, the below SHIFTxSW blog series was created to help guide you through your time here in Austin:

SHIFTxSW part 1: Interview with Hugh Forrest

SHIFTxSW part 2: Preparing to attend as a PR Professional

SHIFTxSW part 3: Sights from those battle lines

As we close out this series, we want to take a deeper look at what surprised us, what disappointed us and what you should be pondering for 2017 as you work your way through Austin-Bergstrom airport. What may surprise some of you is the area in which the SHIFT team was most impressed this year was in the realm of content at Interactive. Every year you will read recaps of products, technologies and parties within the interactive portion of the event. But we’re here to let you know you should not miss out on the discussions taking place across the convention center and hotels throughout downtown Austin. SHIFT ATX attended 30+ sessions and the following were our biggest take-aways. (For other thoughts on the event we’ve included a round-up of articles focused on the event at the end of this post.)

Apple has made Privacy/Policy/Security Everyone’s Concern:

Throughout interactive, there were a multitude of conversations on encryption, consumer privacy and government involvement in private sector product development. Although you may expect these types of debates at RSA Conference, Black Hat or the Gartner Security Summit – SXSW brought a who’s who of security experts onsite to debate issues and provide context for those not working in the industry. This will continue to be a hot button item that will divide groups within security and within the government. The President made his first statements on the topic during his keynote address and found resistance from even those within the subcommittee on national security like Rep William Hurd.

Ironman’s Jarvis could be a near reality thanks to VR/AR players:

Virtual reality headgear was in almost every event or building during SXSW. Every vendor wanted to take you somewhere outside of Austin with the flip of a switch. However, what stole the show for the SHIFT team was more of advancements in augmented reality. Through IEEE’s efforts, an interesting panel was created to showcase Hollywood’s take on technology (ex: Tony Stark’s visuals working with Jarvis) to what is the reality of today’s technology. Following the requests of speakers we did not film the session, but for a look at the future see this video provided previously by its media efforts.


Wearables/Robotics/Drones are the new normal:

Whether you hate the term with the passion of 1000 suns or not, Internet of Things is not going away. SXSW continued to show the connected work from the data on your wearable, to the delivery you may someday receive via drone, to the robotic housemate that may help you with your chores. We may not be the Jetsons yet…but we’re closing in on a life that, until recently, was just throw away ideas from Sci-Fi movie fiction.

Data, Data Everywhere – and still we don’t know what to do with it:

There is an immeasurable amount of data floating around in our world. But without the ability or tools to harness it, understand it and find meaning, it’s of no value to society. We at SHIFT believe in a data-driven approach to PR, so we obviously keep an eye to the platforms and data sets of just about every sector. What we appreciated most by any and all data conversations at SXSW is everyone was clear there is a lot of work to do. No one has all the answers – but no one is giving up trying to understand the power of the data we all take for granted.

Journalism Needs to Change:

Interestingly enough, this complaint did not come from PR/Marketing professionals but journalists themselves. From veterans like Dan Rather to roundtables of including the likes of ABC news, LA Times, Young Turks, etc - all were calling for tougher questions, more background and context in stories and an end to producing news just for clicks. Whether or not there will be changes to “old school” journalism are yet to be seen – but the ad model driving the news is not lost on those putting the stories in front of you each day.

When you leave a session you can’t help but be inundated by a variety of brands and pop cultural items fighting for your attention. Although most will focus on the success of pop-up events from the likes of Mr Robot, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, etc, from our perspective the following brands hit a “home run” while at SXSW:


Many have counted out “big blue” in terms of its ability to be innovative or appeal to a younger generation. However, they did a phenomenal job with this year’s “Cognitive Lab.” Dismantling the often forgotten Vince Young Steakhouse downtown, the building was reborn into an IBM branded building of culinary and robotic wonder. Most brands will flip a building, hand out some drinks or swag, and you’ll forget who they are the moment you walk out the door. Not IBM – not this SXSW. As you were greeted at the door, you were asked a series of questions that would help “Chef Watson” alert bartenders to your preference of drink and create a signature beverage for you. While waiting in line at the bar, staff would walk you through an IBM app to see if you’d be likely to use it in a restaurant or bar to create your cocktails, or show you a variety of robots that could either tour your around the restaurant, out dance you, or perhaps beat you in a game of rock, paper, scissors. If all you wanted was a free drink, that is fine – but you could not help but walk away with the impression that Watson’s impact was growing and touching more aspects of the tech landscape than non-IBM followers may have thought.


Spredfast SXSW

Although we tackled the top swag in our last post, we can’t overlook the “Social Suite” provided by Spredfast. The best way of describing this awesome attendee experience is a reverse mullet – the party was up front and the business is in the back. The front of the office was flipped to be a cool hangout for SX attendees. Coffee, drinks, snacks, a comfy place to sit and work – all were there for the taking. In plain view was a beautiful giant screen that showed off the platform and analytics offered to Spredfast customers. Intrigued enough to see it in action? Not a problem. Behind the lounge area was a series of product demos that could help a prospect transition to customer.


The sharing economy is front and center for Austin between the Uber/Lyft war with Cabs and the battle over short term rentals. Lyft, as the ridesharing partner of SXSW may have promoted its “weird mode” to its app, but I was more impressed with its partnership with Budweiser to promote safety and limit the opportunity for unsafe driving. Brand ambassadors were simply handing out the codes for discounted or free rides with a very simple “get home safe” message. In an event that has vendors throwing booze at every attendee over 21 it was nice to see someone focused on getting them home safely.


3rd Party Involvement: Consumer Technology Association (engine behind CES), IEEE & Passcode:

Unlike many events that try to exclusively create and contain all content, we were pleasantly surprised by the openness of SXSW to play well with others. These groups created quality panels and presentations that provided attendees with information – not just sales pitches.

As promised, below are event recaps from attending media to give depth beyond our own “feet on the street” view of SXSW 2016. If you attended this year’s event, we’d love to hear what you thought of the content provided by SXSW and brand activity throughout Austin.

SXSW News Recaps from Around the Web:

CNBC: The Best Brand Experiences of SXSW Interactive

Esquire: The 12 Biggest Winners of SXSW 2016

Forbes: SXSW Interactive 2016: Suprising Trends and Big Changes in Technology

The Guardian: SXSW: 'It's Pretty Much the Same Mess it was Last Year'

MyStatesman: SXSW marks 30 Years with a Presidential Visit and Tech's Continued Rise

Passcode: Lessons on Security and Privacy from SXSW

TechCrunch: After SXSW, Here's a Roadmap for How the Tech Industry Can Change the World for this Year

USA Today: 5 Awesome Tech Takeaways from SXSW 2016

Matt TrocchioVice President

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