The Demise of SXSW has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Over the past several years, it’s become chic in the industry to dump on SXSW. The renowned Austin business festival is all out of steam, bereft of ideas, and all-around stale… or so the critics would have us believe. And, in point of fact, some big tech companies and other brands have – very publicly – opted to skip out on the event in recent years.

But is this the beginning of the end for SXSW, or is this just a shift in focus? And, if it’s the latter, how can brands use smart PR to maximize their results at a festival that, despite prevailing attitudes in some circles, is still thriving?

Re-evaluate the Audience

One of the biggest mistakes brands can make when considering an appearance at SXSW is assuming the audience. It’s probably not who you think. At least, not completely. While the baked-in audience are festival attendees, these folks may come and go.

However, there’s another audience that brands may be completely missing: the people throwing the parties and leading the panel discussions. After all, who is really more engaged in the industry, the attendees looking for a temporary thrill, or the experts who eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff? These people are knowledgeable, connected, and massively influential… and most brands all but ignore them in their marketing efforts.

How important is this factor? Well, some media have reported that, of all the people who attend SXSW, one-in-three is a management-level executive making more than six figures. Most of these work for larger companies. And another ten percent of attendees are the press or industry insiders with deep connections. Who is targeting their SXSW experience toward these people? You could be.

Reaching Decision Makers

Decision makers, no matter what their position or their company, are always looking for an edge, a new idea that sings out to them as the next thing that will give them a leg up on the competition. So, when preparing for events like SXSW, the idea should not “something that gets attention.”

The focus should be “what do we offer that will blow someone’s hair back by solving one of their problems?” Think about it: how important and impactful would it be if a decision maker at a major company or a motivated investor arrived at the festival and went home and “An Answer”, thanks to you.

There is a vital difference between marketing for attention and looking to deliver a solution or inspiration to a specific target market. If countless top industry decision makers and idea people come to SXSW looking for their next big thing, how “dead” could the festival really be?

The answer to that question is as rhetorical as it gets. SXSW isn’t dead, but it has shifted. Those who shift with it will reap the benefits. Those that fail to understand what’s happening will continue to complain, confusing a tremendous opportunity for a waste of time.

In the end, it’s about mindset and connection. Brands that approach SXSW with an understanding of the real opportunity will find plenty of reason to flock to Austin.

About the Author:

Ronn Torossian is the founder behind the success of 5WPR, one of America’s ten largest privately owned Public Relations firms. As president, CEO, and founder of 5WPR, he has overseen the company’s fast growth and expansion to the Inc.500 list and has helped Fortune 500, Inc. 500, and Forbes 400 businesses become successful as well. Torossian is known as one of the foremost public relations experts in the United States.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and Chairman of 5WPR, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company’s growth, overseeing more than 275 professionals in the company’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named “PR Agency of the Year” by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world’s most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine’s Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country’s foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations,” which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.

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