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March 16, 2023 // Tracy Stragier  //       //  Opinion

A PR Pro’s Guide to SXSW – From a First Timer

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend SXSW 2023 for the first time to support a featured session we secured in partnership with our client Dexcom, a pioneer in continuous glucose monitoring for people with diabetes. I quickly learned in between the chips and queso, panel discussions, and brand pop-ups scattered across Austin that it’s easy for brands to get lost in the clutter of a conference that brings essentially every industry to one place.  

At any given time, dozens of events and experiences are going on. So, what else do you need to know besides the typical advice of wear comfortable shoes, drink plenty of water and be prepared for a sudden Texas rainstorm? Quite a bit. Here are the top tips from the ground in Austin to make sure your brand’s activities at SXSW have long-lasting ROI. 

Maximize all moments before, during and after SXSW 

Whether your brand participates in a panel, hosts a pop-up or throws an event, take a step back to think through how to pre-promote that activity, engage with SXSW attendees onsite and leverage content after the event. There is power in the “during” stage, but you can reach an even broader audience and have longer-lasting impact by thinking through all the moments in time for telling your brand’s story at SXSW.  

That could look like building buzz and excitement for your brand’s activities through a teaser campaign leading up to the conference, engaging directly with SXSW attendees to promote attendance, or capturing photos and videos from the ground to inform social media content following the event. With an integrated planning approach, there are many ways to stretch your SXSW investment because let’s face it – even if you secure an editorial session, getting there is not cheap.  

Explore both in-person and virtual opportunities to reach your target audiences    

Throughout the week, many people said that it felt like SXSW was fully back for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. While the conference hustled and bustled with media and attendees, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your virtual hat on. By offering in-person or remote media interviews with key spokespeople during the conference, you’ll be able to secure media interviews and resulting coverage of your activities regardless of attendance, and reach broader audiences with your brand’s messaging.    

Have a plan B… plan C and plan D  

With any event that has many moving parts, challenges will pop up and you’ll have to nimbly pivot to another option. For anyone who has planned an event, this concept isn’t revolutionary news, but it is an important reminder for all of us as we jump back into event planning and staffing. I spoke with and heard from many panelists during SXSW that their co-panelist or moderator had to pull out last minute due to illness, leading to quick turn changes and a cascading ripple effect on plans.  

It’s critical to think through what could have a large impact if plans changed last-minute, and make multiple back-up plans. As you gear up to make the trip to Austin, building a detailed run of show for all involved team members that addresses various scenarios will be key to the smoothest experience.  

Scope out different sessions and activities   

It was invaluable to be on the ground at SXSW for a few days leading up to my client’s activities. Our team was able to attend panels and discussions from all industries that informed changes we made to our content to ensure it was the most engaging as possible. Plus, you’ll get to learn from some of the biggest innovators across industries and understand what resonates with conference organizers as you make plans for future SXSW activities. Consider attending sessions that might have nothing to do with your industry or business – you might just find inspiration for your brand’s next big idea.   

With SXSW in the rearview mirror, I can’t wait to take these learnings and apply them to next year’s conference and other mega events for our client partners and agency.  

Tracy Stragier is an account director in our San Diego office, where she leads PR efforts for a variety of health and wellness clients.  


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