Jason Schlossberg wrote an opinion piece in Ad Age last week, titled, "Why I am (Probably) Not Coming Back to SxSW Interactive Next Year."
The sub-head was "Four Reasons Why Discovering Something New is Getting Harder at Event." and they were:
- The biggest technological innovations right now are invisible.
- It doesn't seem like anyone waits to launch things at SXSW anymore.
- This year it is all about ed and med (and robots).
- "Innovation" is everyone's business today -- or is it?
He ends with the following paragraph:
So is it still worth attending SXSW Interactive? If you've never been, then I say yes. But if you already have then I say, maybe. It's simply no longer the requirement that it once was. I'm not sure that I am leaving any more informed or inspired than I would be reading about it from afar. Having said all of that, I still had a great time. I met and reconnected with many good friends and colleagues -- most of whom, ironically, live in New York City like I do. And Austin is itself an extremely inspiring place to visit. But I (probably) won't be back next year.
So kudos to him for a) getting my attention, b) being smart about covering his a$$ with the word (probably) #fomo and c) getting his piece published in Ad Age.
Personally I disagree with him. Respectfully of course.
To address his points:
- Not always. I met the founder of Kapture who gave me his wearable device that allows me to go back in time 60 seconds at a time. I'm not joking.
- Tell that to Mr Robot who launched last year and followed it up with an even bigger activation this year. Mr Robot has had an incredible award-winning and ratings-winning year
- ...and VR (and robots or Mr Robot)
- It should be, but the reality is that it's the first budget to get cut and the level of innovation at companies is still abysmal
...and to his concluding paragraph, I actually think it's a lot harder for virgins than grizzled old timers. First timers tend to get overwhelmed with the tyranny of too much choice. They cram too much into a day, spend too much money with third party vendors that "program" their itineraries to a fault where serendipity and chance are pretty much eradicated, are disappointed when they are turned away from sessions that are too full, spend too much time waiting in lines and haven't discovered "The Onion" yet.
I went solo this year and never found myself wanting for a second to find stimulating conversation from random people I bumped into, mutual admirers I finally met like Mark Schaefer or old friends I reconnected with like C.C. Chapman.
I went determined to be positive at all times and my litmus test was to have 1 quality conversation with 1 quality person at every venue. Like George Costanza (in the Seinfeld episode where he cracks a joke in the meeting and when everyone roars with laughter he ups and leaves on a high), when that happened I would leave and go to the next soiree (even if I had been there for less than 30 minutes).
Jason is right...you do tend to connect with people who are a stone's throw away in the very city you live or work, but sometimes it takes getting out of the madness and chaos to find the time to have genuine conversations, like my breakfast with R/GA on Sunday morning for example.
So what was "the next big thing" at SxSW this year? From what I heard, it was Snapchat as a messaging platform. I missed that memo. Perhaps it was the fact my cellphone worked so well (and the connection problems from previous years was just a thing of the past). I also discovered "Low Power Mode" on my iPhone which is my new favorite function...that and "Night Shift" (but you can't use them together).
Actually, my big takeaway this year was one word: TALENT. I was blown away by how many BIG companies (from blue chip brands to agencies or management consultancies) set up their lavish activations with a primary goal of using it as a recruitment tool (and I suppose retention as well). Makes total sense when you think of the tech savvy, influencers and Millennial talent "on show".
On the flipside, I continue to be appalled by the LACK of vision from the same Fortune 500 brands and service companies who DO NOT invest in sending their people to SxSW. You would be shocked at how many people were NOT there because their companies wouldn't pay for it, or worse still...they were there ON THEIR OWN DIME.
I don't believe SxSW has jumped the shark...well, not any more or less than in every previous year that I've been going down to Austin. SxSW is what you make of it and what you put in is almost always what you get out.
I had moments of serendipity like sitting next to Bryan Bundesen, the founder of legendary Grumpy Cat, two years running on the plane coming into Austin and he kindly gave me ride into town or seeing an ignorant bouncer refuse VIP entry to Steve Case at a startup event (oops). Or blowing off MDC and IAB's brunches in favor of watching Spurs beat Aston Villa at NBC Sports Experience at the Four Seasons. Come on you Spurs!
I'm probably with Jason that I didn't necessarily learn anything new this year, but then again I never do. Rather, I get inspired by networking with amazing, diverse, talented and visionary people. Some of it sticks. Some of it disappears into the Red Bull and Vodka void of too many late night cocktails...but I always emerge just a little excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.
And for that, I (probably) will be back next year.
P.S. Jason, we should connect as we're both in NYC. Or better yet, let's meet in Austin next year :)