Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

Three decades ago, South by Southwest debuted as a relatively humble gathering of innovators and the perpetually curious across multiple different industries. Today, the massive festival is a go-to experience for top brands in tech, entertainment, health care, insurance, education, retail and fashion.

Hundreds of thousands of people descend on Austin, Texas to consume an experience they can’t get elsewhere. From communal bars and incredible interactive displays to keynote speeches, performances and must-attend parties, SXSW offers something for everyone when it takes over the capital city of Texas each year. But what can SXSW teach brands about marketing and public relations? Lots, actually. While the fundamental lesson is that engagement — instigating and nurturing conversation — between brands, experts and consumers remains a vital tool for success, there are a few specific tools or lessons marketers and PR pros can take away from big events such as SXSW.

Expand your list-building program

Anytime you can get hundreds of thousands of people to hear your pitch, especially when they’re connected to millions through social media, you need to maximize that opportunity. And the fact is, while tried and true incentivizing still works, when it comes to events where everything is eye-popping, you really need to up your game.

At SXSW, brands incentivize their list-building efforts by asking festival guests to trade information for access to their events and VIP opportunities. From simple tweets to surveys and ticket interactions, brands can trade once-in-a-lifetime experiences for fresh, new prospect contacts and other information.

Create ongoing engagement

You need good content, and you need a lot of good, new content on a regular basis. But that doesn’t mean you have to generate all the content on your own. Some of the most successful SXSW setups invited guests to create their own content about their experience in real time. They were more engaged, and the brands received warmer interactions without having to create all the conversations.

The second part of this step is to find the source of the content that gets the most traction and nurture a relationship with that connector. This person may already be an influencer, or they may’ve just begun building influence. Either way, if what they bring to the table is gaining traction, you need to know why, and you need to know how you can continue to build on that engagement.

Dig into the data

While lists are great, just getting names and emails leaves a lot on the table. With all the new methods and strategies available for analyzing and monetizing data, brands should invest in learning how to gain better insights from the data they have, and refine their data gathering techniques.

Modern data-driven marketing strategies allow brands to interact with prospects in different ways and at different times, from learning how and when to send ads to how to conduct and curate social media connections.

Stay on top of trends

One of the biggest and most important lessons marketers can take away from SXSW is how to identify the next trends and prepare to take advantage of the next “it” idea in your industry. SXSW literally displays many of these innovations that will become tomorrow’s trends, and savvy brands can watch guest interactions to see which new ideas are likely to take off.

These same research tactics can be used to watch trends outside of big festivals as well. While you may not be able to guess the next big YouTube star or the next breakout program or issue, you can crunch the data and see where consumer attitudes and trends are headed in your industry.

While these lessons and actions are distilled into 10 frenetic days, each strategy can and should be considered and implemented in your regular marketing and PR planning.


5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian is one of America’s leading PR executives.