Saturday, March 10, 2012

postcard from Austin

When the first SXSW took place in 1987, 150 attendees were expected, but more than 700 showed up. It feels like the same jump this year, only the shark is much bigger. Last year, 18,000 attended South by Southwest Interactive ("South by", to badge holders) and this year estimates are closer to 20,000. There are lines for everything--sometimes even lines to stand in line. (Except for women's restrooms, which is a nice change of pace.) Badge pickup for arrivals was, at one point, two hours. There are over 5000 sessions and panels to choose from, but rooms get closed out. Especially sessions about branding and marketing.

Running late to a session, I stopped by an Info Booth. "Where's Ballroom D?" I asked a friendly looking guy. He pointed to a map. I can't read maps. But I knew enough to know he had made a mistake. The box he was pointing to wasn't marked D. It was called The Ogilvy Day Stage. "They changed the name," he said. Which gives you an idea of the ad agency presence here. What used to be known as Spring Fest for Geeks is now Cannes-west for Advertisers. Some gripe about this. But there are advantages. Like that Ogilvy does cool wall-size visual notes of some sessions and makes them available each day at its Day Stage (next to the elusive Ballroom D.) You can see them in the virtual world, here.

Crowded or not, SXSW is a blast. Whatever you're interested in, someone more interesting than you will talk about it onstage or at a party. So far, I've attended sessions on social TV, transmedia, publishing, cool hunting and how women present themselves online. (Natch, missed The Crash Course in Becoming Superbetter.) I don't begrudge the attendance, nor the monsoon-hard rains. Austin needs them both. According to Wikipedia, SXSW is the highest revenue-producing event for the city's economy, bringing in $167 million last year. Excuse me while I make a civic-duty run to Allens.

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