Why I Would Not Go to SXSW

March 14, 2013

useI’m fresh off my first trip to SXSW and it was an enlightening and interesting experience. I was fortunate enough to hear some great keynote speakers, and also attended a fun session with Shaquille O’Neil. We posted insights on the blog all throughout SXSW Interactive and, while there are many reasons to attend the conference, for this post I’m going to share three reasons why I wouldn’t go to SXSW.

  1. It’s Expensive – By the time you add up your badge and hotel costs, you could easily spend $3,000 or more. And no, I didn’t stay at a fancy hotel in the heart of downtown where the conference takes place. I stayed 20 minutes away.
  2. No Guarantee – Yes, you are paying almost $1,000 for a conference badge, but that badge in no way guarantees you a spot at the sessions you want to attend. In my opinion, that is a fundamental flaw in how SXSW is produced. If you are paying such a substantial sum of money, you should be able to see the sessions you want to see, or at least see a simulcast. At SXSW, it isn’t uncommon to be turned away from a substantial amount of things you want to see. For instance, I attended a session one afternoon and two women I spoke with said they had already been turned away from three sessions earlier in the day. From a business standpoint, that’s a pretty bad return on investment.
  3. Learning – If you’re looking to hear a motivational keynote or two, SXSW will not disappoint, but if you are looking for groundbreaking knowledge sharing, you’ll probably be disappointed. Yes, there were some wicked smart people at the event, but the “learning” type sessions I attended didn’t necessarily do the trick. It’s likely that there are other, more intimate conferences that could be used for gaining exposure to new information.

From a management standpoint, I think the three items outlined above are very important, but that doesn’t mean it’s a complete wash.

There are an immense number of parties at SXSW and that’s where a ton of relationships are created. If you’re looking to network and make new business contacts, the parties are a great place to make that happen. Just keep in mind that the competition for conversation with key people is extremely competitive and the “sober window” can be very short.

Prior to booking your trip to SXSW it’s very important, as an individual, to consider the points made in this post so that your expectations can be set accordingly.

On the other hand, if you’re a brand looking to get in front of a massive group of tech savvy people, SXSW definitely fits the bill.

Ryan is Senior Manager, Online Communications, for Ketchum. He’s an avid cyclist and blogger, and is proud of his Southern roots. Feel free to check out his personal website, or connect with him on Twitter – @RyanShell.