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South by Southwest will look a little more international this year, as the Geeks from Gangnam, Korea's startup delegation, mingle with a growing group from Brazil, and country pavilions like France's "A French taste of tech" spring up. (The French may have the only Champagne 3D printer at the festival).
For the British, the largest group from outside the U.S. at SXSW, Austin's first international route debuts March 4, three days before the festival starts, with a British Airways flight from London's Heathrow airport.
According to SXSW Director Hugh Forrest, 74 countries will be represented this year, up from 57 in 2013. He said that there is no concerted or organized strategy by the festival to increase interest outside the U.S. Instead, he tries to grow the festival outside the U.S. the same way it has domestically: via word of mouth and social media, and networks.
"One of the bigger events within SXSW Interactive is the awards," he said. "Last year, the awards had 14 finalists from outside the U.S, this year that's up to 21 finalists."
France, where the tech and start-up scene is starting to take off thanks to government support and a new wave of entrepreneurs, is sending an official delegation to SXSW for the first time and will host its own pavilion. BETC Paris is working on the theme "A French taste of tech" for the pavilion. It will include a "Tweet Cellar" to help tweeters' messages age like good French wine – "Having fun at SXSW #YOLO," for example, would be re-tweeted later as, "Such a treat to take part in the SXSW festival #carpe diem." A Champagne 3D printer is also part of the plan for the French pavilion.
Havas-owned BETC got involved with the tech scene through its Paris-based Start Up Lab, which is relocating to SXSW to set up "Speed Branding" sessions, offering 20-minute consultations on brand storytelling, pitching and product refining with a planner, a creative director and an account manager.
Brazil's trade and promotion agency Apex is bringing 30 Brazilian companies, and setting up a Casa Brasil for the first time to showcase Brazilian cuisine, music, movies and lifestyle. London's newly trendy borough of Hackney, although not officially part of SXSW, is returning with what it calls an "alternative trade mission" to demonstrate East London's creative, technology and design community. Hackney House is setting up in a derelict retail unit in Austin, and its activities are heavily beer-oriented, including a British Airways-sponsored Drinkabout.
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It's unclear exactly how many international visitors will be at this year's SXSW, but last year about 2,500 of the 30,000 people that attended SXSW Interactive, the part of the festival that attracts the most advertising and marketing attendees, came from outside the U.S., according to the festival. That was a jump from 2012, with 2,375 international attendees.
At the country level, so far 310 Brazilians have registered for this year's SXSW, a 50% increase from 206 in 2013, and 179 in 2012, according to festival data.
The Brazilians also have one of the 14 finalists outside the U.S. in the interactive awards, for a Y&R project for Teto (roof, in Portuguese), a sort of Habitat for Humanity for very poor communities in Latin America. The project, called Invisigram, recruited 28 Brazilian celebrities who turned over their Instagram profiles for a day to pictures posted by poor residents of those communities.
James Kirkham, London-based global head of social and mobile at Leo Burnett, is attending SXSW for the first time this year, and will be a speaker. He's more familiar with the Cannes Lions Festival of International Creativity, and has heard that audiences at SXSW are harder to please than the ones at Cannes, who tend to sit comfortably in their seats at the Palais des Festival during presentations.
"I've heard that, at SXSW, they vote with their feet and walk out if you don't grab their attention in the first couple of minutes," he said.
Contributing: Emma Hall and Shareen Pathak