South by Southwest is a great place for a startup or even an established company to get some traction.
It doesn’t matter if you have a big budget or a low budget, there are all kinds of ways to stand out from the crowd at South by. Some of them require a lot of advance planning, while others require Guerrilla marketing tactics, imagination and a lot of legwork. Both can yield lots of impressions and tangible results. And make sure to work social media with a clever hashtag.
Lots of media attend SXSW every year, so it’s a great place to get some press.
Of course the best way to stand out at SXSW is to invent the next big thing. Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, Foodspotting, Meerkat and others all gained big traction at SXSW. Some like PR Pro Laura Beck advise startups not to launch at SXSW because it’s such a busy time, but it’s a great place to showcase your startups to an international audience of technology influencers. And Honest Dollar officially launched at SXSW in 2015 and a year later, Goldman Sachs bought the company. So who knows, your startup might just be the next big thing. Or it might just be a flash in the pan. RIP Meerkat.
- PANELS – Pre-event: Pitch to Panel Picker and set up a panel with a compelling topic. (You can also try to hit up established panels to see if they had someone fall through and need to fill a spot.)
- TRADE SHOW – Get a booth at the SXSW Trade Show. It’s fantastic real estate right in the convention center that reaches a global audience. TriNet, the human resources company, put a giant Yam in the convention center a few years ago and got press for pitching a faux YamTrader startup.
- PARTY – Hold a party. Official parties must get approval from SXSW and other parties often require a permit from the City of Austin, which takes advanced planning. But you can do small pop up parties at hotels and other venues with select influencers in your industry. Gary Vaynerchuk used to host after hours wine tasting parties. He would send out the party invite via Twitter after midnight.
- PODCAST – Podcast stage – this is new this year at SXSW. The conference organizers are giving 42 podcasts a Podcast stage to do live shows. It’s open to all badge holders. (Submissions are closed for this year but you’ll have another opportunity next year)
- PITCH – Enter pitch competitions and other competitions that allow you to showcase your company on stage. Holt Ventures Industrial Technology Pitch Competition.SXSW Release It pitch competition. SXSW Accelerator. First Honest Dollar won the SXSW Release It pitch competition and then the startup won the 2015 ATI SXSW pitch competition.
THINGS TO DO AT THE SHOW
- MEDIA ROOM – Hit up the press room to reach the media. The media is everywhere at SXSW. One of the ways to get your name in front of them is to drop off goodies at the press room. Reporters like free stuff but ethics rules prohibit them from taking anything with a big price tag so keep it small like notebooks, pens, hangover kits, umbrellas, hats, T-shirts, candy, breathe mints – you get the idea. The possibilities are endless.
- EMAIL – Reach out directly to media to set up appointments, if possible. The SXSW press department provides a list of journalists who are attending SXSW. Reach out to them on SXSW Social also. It’s not always possible to connect for a one on one meeting, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Also, there are several journalism related parties like The Awesomest Journalism Party Ever put on by Hacks and Hackers. Lots of media outlets also host their own parties like Mashable, CNN, etc.
- STUNTS – Attention-grabbing stunts – Last year, Wesley Faulkner, social media manager of NameCheap, dressed up like Waldo from the children’s books Where’s Waldo. He had people take pictures with him and post to social media with a special hashtag and they got a free domain name. The campaign went viral and earned more than 2 million impressions, according to the company. Big budget attractions include Mr. Robot’s Ferris Wheel last year and General Electric’s solar powered Merry-go-round from a few years ago. But by far, the biggest lines I’ve ever seen were at the Mashable tent in 2014 for people to get their picture taken with Grumpy Cat.
- WEIRD FACTOR Host some weird stuff. Chaotic Moon does a great job of this. They famously tasered an intern with a drone strike a few years back. And every year, they’ve got about a dozen different projects on display.
- LEGOS – The Lego Pit – a cheap way to get pictures of your logo out there. People build skyscrapers and other creations with company logos and others take pictures. It’s a low budget way to make an impression. And it’s fun.
- T-SHIRTS – Not as big as several years ago, but people still love getting free T-shirts. Even better if you ask people to wear the T-shirt in exchange for a reward.
- GIVEAWAYS – Candy with stickers. Or hangover bags with stickers. Or breathe mints with stickers. Or just stickers. People love free stuff and stickers. Bags. Just make sure the promotional giveaways have your brand, website and other details on them.
- RIDES – Weird rides – TaskRabbit had a giant, furry truck that looked like a brown rabbit and handed out ice cream. Uber hired a fleet of branded pedicabs. Lyft gave piggyback rides. PayPal gave rides in antique and vintage cars.
- PROBLEM SOLVER – Solve problems for people. Branded charging stations are a great idea. Also, portable chargers. And like in the example above, people need rides. Chevy had a fleet of electric vehicles that gave people rides to different venues one year. Paper maps of the best places to eat, get coffee, drinks, buy souvenirs, etc. (Posse did this in 2014 and reported it went over well)
- COSTUMES – Mascots and costumes. Every year, I see people getting their picture taken with people in costumes whether it’s Hipmunk’s giant chipmunk, people dressed as pandas, robots, hearts, superheroes, etc. It must be working because people keep doing it.
- POSTERS – Old fashion flyers – one of the cheapest ways to get the word out about your company is to create a poster and plaster it on the poles around the convention center. Just be prepared to make hundreds because they get covered up quickly. But they can make quite an impression.
- PAPER – Paper products – The Daily Dot, which considers itself to be the newspaper of the Internet, created a real newspaper broadsheet for SXSW one year and placed it at parties around town. Silicon Hills News also produced a special 32-page magazine for SXSW twice. We’re not doing it this year, but we might bring it back next year. It was a huge hit.
- POP-UPS – Last year, Besomebody, which is no longer around, created pop-ups around town with people displaying their passions – singing, dancing, painting, drawing. The platform was geared at teaching people a new skill. It also rented out a giant billboard.
- GAMES – Sidewalk games – Foursquare used chalk to create Foursquare playing courts outside the convention center several years back. It was effective at getting their brand out there.
- EVENTS – Host an event like running, hiking, going on a tour. Guy Kawasaki used to host an ice hockey meetup. Others have had skeet shooting outings. Lots of people in town want to see the area beyond the convention center. Sometimes organizing a bus to a getaway like Salt Lick is the perfect way to get some quality time with an influencer audience.
If you have a favorite attention-getting tip, that’s not mentioned here, please add it to the comments.
Also, ADVERTISE in Silicon Hills News – great way to reach the tech audience. (Only have two spots left for sidebar ads for March – act fast) HAVE FUN! BE SAFE! And contact Laura Lorek at 210-413-3955 LauraLorek@gmail.com or Laura@SiliconHillsNews.com to let us know what your company is doing at SXSW Interactive.