- Navigating through the thousands of sessions, events, people and parties at SXSW can easily feel like making your way through a maze.
- So we got two executives – Chrissie Hanson from OMD and Jeriad Zoghby from Accenture Interactive – to chart how they spent a typical day at the festival.
- Despite the two coming from different ends of marketing spectrum, it turns out that their days aren’t quite as different from each other as you’d expect.
South By Southwest has long been a sacred annual pilgrimage for brands, tech companies and ad agencies alike, offering a heady mix of technology and creativity under the Texan sun.
But amid the sprawling chaos of downtown Austin, navigating through thousands of sessions, events, people and parties can easily feel like making your way through a dizzying maze.
So we asked two marketing executives to plot out what a typical day in their lives looks like during SXSW. And while we were at it, we also decided to have some fun – by pitting an executive from a classic ad agency and an executive from a consultancy (gasp!) against each other to see how similar or different their days were.
Los Angeles-based Chrissie Hanson is a communications planning lead on the ad agency side at OMD, helping brands such as Sony chart out their media strategies. She is at the festival documenting her observations for the agency.
Jeriad Zoghby, on the other hand, helps Accenture Interactive clients like Carnival design bespoke and personalised marketing experiences for customers. The Austin native is a panelist at SXSW this year.
Both Hanson and Zoghby mapped out how they spend their time at SXSW on Sunday, March 11. Despite the two coming from distinct parts of the industry, it turns out that their days aren’t quite as different from each other as you’d expect. The excerpts have been lightly edited:
The Ad Agency POV: Hanson’s Diary
7:00 a.m.: Alarm goes off. The clocks went forward so it’s a little disorientating. I fire up the laptop and finish writing my article from Day 1. The most pertinent lessons for me came from Daniel Pink’s session “Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” who said that our daily patterns profoundly affect our mood, and that focused analytical thinking should be done in the morning, while creative endeavours and workouts should be saved for the second peak later in the day. I’m going to re-jig my schedule today to make that happen.
9:45 a.m.: I shower, have breakfast, get myself sorted, and head to the Convention Center. The streets are so quiet that I think I left too early.
10:20 a.m.: No, I did not leave too early. I arrive at Ballroom D to find the longest queue snaking around the building. Thankfully, the SXSW app shows that the session is still green, which means we’ll get in. Nice.
11:00 a.m.: Amy Webb, Founder of Future Today Institute comes on stage and tells us that her entire “2018 Emerging Tech Trends Report” is available open source. The audience loves her immediately! Webb reminds us that “knowing individual trends is not enough, it’s the connections between them that is critical.” Her report contains 255 trends across 20 industries. This will be excellent fodder for our strategists.
12:15 p.m.: I hot foot it over to the Pinterest House to catch Doug Rozen, OMD’s Chief Digital & Innovation Officer sharing his thoughts on “Building a 21st Century Entertainment Brand.” He predicts that future of entertainment content will include more elaborate and immersive voice-led productions and that we must fill our organisation with curious people who are different from ourselves if we want to be successful at digital transformation. Hurrah for podcasts and media misfits!
1:30 p.m.: It’s a blustery day and I need to get out of this biting wind. I nip back to my hotel to change into something warmer, make a couple of calls, and then head over to the W Hotel for MediaLink’s private-event “Innovation Conversations.” A group of conference-goers whizz past me on Showtime-sponsored bikes – why didn’t I think of that?
3:10 p.m.: Next up is “Making Impressions Count – Not Just Counting Them,” where the panelists discuss the importance of holding onto creativity to ensure that it doesn’t get lost in the complexity of tech and data. Beth Brady, CMO Principal Financial Group, says that they rely on their agencies to “remember the human… to provide meaningful insights around what humans care about most.”
4:30 p.m.: I head over to the Fairmont Hotel and line up for “Westworld: Establishing a Transmedia Franchise.” It’s filled with adult fans hanging onto every word as the HBO team shares how they systematically split up and delivered the series’ storylines over multiple channels in order to create super-fans and broader viewers. It’s an impressive case study and the room erupts in applause at the end.
6:15 p.m.: I meet up with a colleague from London and we head over to El Naranjo for dinner. It’s a moment of calm set against the exuberance of the outside activity that runs along Rainey Street. We swap notes from our sessions and agree that SXSW is inspiring and exhausting in equal measure.
8:00 p.m.: I walk home past the food stalls on Red River. The smell of tacos and pulled pork is glorious. I stop by the DC Comics Pop Culture Experience where there are Batmobiles from each film, a statue of Super-Man and artists standing in glowing balls waving light sabers. It’s a quick burst of fun before heading back in my hotel room to write my article for Day 2.
9:30 p.m.: I head down to the gym and log my 51st ride on my Peloton app.
10:15 p.m.: Back in my room to finish my article. As I reflect upon the day, a sentence sticks in head; ‘In order to see the future of one thing, you must see the future of many things.’ It’s an excellent reminder that to be a better strategist, you need to look beyond your own industry and see the connections with the world around you and consider perspectives different from your own. I’m looking forward to learning more on Day 3.
8:05 a.m.: I’m a night owl and last night wasn’t any different, as I was getting ready for my talk today. Sadly, I didn’t call it a night until 2 a.m., which felt like 3 a.m., thanks to daylight savings. I had a great night though, including a surreal stop over at the Governor’s mansion before getting home and hanging out with the kids.
8:30 a.m.: I’m about to head out the door, but not before grabbing some allergy meds as Austin’s allergy season is in full swing. Austin is a lot greener than people realise, and I love the trees here… But they don’t always love me back.
9:45 a.m.: It’s time for the most important stop of the day. I had a long night and have a big day ahead, so I treat myself to some breakfast on the way in to the Fjord Austin studio. And no, I’m not having breakfast tacos. It’s just a myth that we eat them daily. Plus, you don’t come to Kerbey Lane Cafe for breakfast and not get pancakes.
10:30 a.m.: The studio is wonderfully empty, which is a rarity – it is the weekend after all. But it’s perfect, as I put some finishing touches on the materials for my talk this afternoon. I head over to our Accenture Interactive Experience Cantina, which is already buzzing with the day’s festivities.
11:30 a.m.: I’m getting some last-minute photos of one of our artificial intelligence demos for part of my talk. That’s what I get for launching a demo for the first time ever, about 24 hours ago. But that’s SXSW for you – if you’re not willing to be innovative and take some risks, then this is probably not the place for you.
12:15 p.m.: I get a text from the head of the product innovation lab to meet one of my clients to meet at the Cantina. It’s a good meeting. Quick, but fun nonetheless.
1:00 p.m.: I race back to the studio to add the final creative elements for my talk. Lunch? No time for that. A bag of pretzels and a Topo Chico will have to do today.
3:00 p.m.: I search for my French colleagues, who are joining me on stage for a live-demo of a personalised catalogue. It’s a really cool concept where you see yourself instead of a model in various clothes. Unfortunately, they went to the wrong hotel for the talk, but we were able to figure it out pretty quickly. Problem solved.
3:15 p.m.: Team shows up and quickly finds a willing crowd volunteer to be a part of our live shopping catalogue demo stage. They take her into another room for her photo to be featured in the personalised catalogue demo. Thanks Suzanne!
3:25 p.m.: We are sound-tested and ready to go. I am really excited about the talk – but a little nervous to get going.
3:30 p.m.: Off we go. My talk is about how customers don’t want brands to predict or define their journeys, but to design experiences that help them create their own. It’s the only way to truly scale personalised experiences. The best part is being able to show off some real work where this is happening.
4:30 p.m.: …And that’s over! I’m exhausted, but what a blast it was.
5:00 p.m.: I head back to the Experience Cantina for chips and salsa with a few of my clients, who are CPG executives, plus a celebratory margarita …or two.
7:00 p.m.: It’s happy hour time with one of our local clients, the iconic Whole Foods Market 365.
10:30 p.m.: Finally, I’m on my way home. I catch up with my wife after a long, but very fun day.
11:00 p.m.: I’m wiped out and it’s definitely time to call it a night. I just need to finish packing for my overseas trip to London tomorrow so I can get some rest.
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