SXSW: Sessions, SouthBites and Social

March 18, 2015

Not knowing what to expect, I went to SXSW 2015 feeling a bit intimidated. Like any PR professional worth their stuff, I did my homework. I downloaded the SXSW Go app, researched sessions and speakers and spoke to colleagues and friends who had attended in the past. I have to admit, even after all that prep, it was still hard to wrap my mind around what I was walking into this week.

I was blown away. I left SXSW feeling energized, smarter and more curious than ever. The speakers were dynamic, their content was interesting and the attendees were friendly and cool.

Here are the “three S’s” that stood out from my experience:

1. Sessions
The content was SO strong! From hearing how NASA is putting the “social back in social,” to learning how CNN and the New York Times moderate their online comments … there was really something for everyone.

A few important insights for those attending next year:

  • Choose panels, sessions and workshops with the speakers in mind. Think about who you’re most interested in hearing from – don’t get sucked into picking sessions based on title alone
  • Look out for sessions that require advanced sign-up and prepare accordingly
  • Keep an open mind when considering sessions that may not be relevant to your direct line of business – you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn from different disciplines. Knowledge is power!

2. SouthBites
Why didn’t anyone tell me about the food? Austin is known for its good eats, but the food trucks on-site were out of this world! Fried chicken, kimchi fries, mac ’n’ cheese with truffle oil, and the barbeque … you get the picture.

3. Social
In a session with Martin Harrison from Huge called, “The Empathy Gap” we learned to plan, create and build with empathy by balancing numbers with insights, talking to people and trusting their feedback (click to tweet). Speaking of people, if you’re ever at SXSW with a client to scope-out sponsorship opportunities, I would recommend simply engaging with people on the street for the best insights. SXSW is the ultimate networking party, with every sidewalk and restaurant flush with influencers from all industries and backgrounds. I felt surrounded by artists, media, filmmakers, musicians and innovators. Be social!

I’ve returned home with a wealth of insights and a ton of great memories of fruitful time spent with old friends, colleagues and clients.

I didn’t even wait to get home before texting one of my clients who didn’t attend this year to tell them they should definitely send a team in 2016. I will without question be back as soon as I can to learn more – and look forward to sharing my experiences with colleagues and clients!

Rand Carpenter is Senior Vice President and Account Director for Ketchum South. She leads the ExxonMobil business for Ketchum in the U.S. and has over 17 years of experience in public relations and strategic communications. Rand started her communications career as an intern for Coca-Cola, where she then came to Ketchum Atlanta to support a number of accounts, such as Eastman Kodak, Cingular Wireless, Arthur Blank Foundation, Bombardier/Sea-Doo, Clorox and Pfizer. In 2003, Rand re-joined Coca-Cola North America in Public Affairs & Communications, most recently holding the position of Vice President & Chief of Staff. Rand rejoined Ketchum in 2014 to lead the ExxonMobil account team and also oversees the agency’s Nike internal communications work.