Beer and Barbecue: A Few Tips for Newbies Attending SXSW

You Can Mine It for New Business With the Right Approach

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Darryl Ohrt
Darryl Ohrt
A friend just reminded me that SXSW is only weeks away. The interactive portion of this conference has become the global mega meet-up for anyone in the digital creative business, and for the third year, our agency will be attending. SXSW veterans might say this gets us just beyond the "newb" status.

In the past, we've made the trip to Austin with the goal of learning, meeting colleagues and eating barbecue. More and more, I'm hearing about agencies who are approaching the conference with aggressive business-development goals. And each year, there's a growing army of marketing folk in attendance, so there's likely a Texas-size gaggle of potential clients to share barbecue with.

At our agency, we've taken a business-development approach centered around attraction. We continuously strive to create and share tools, content and information that we believe is helpful, insightful or inspiring to clients. This, in turn, reminds clients we're here when they're ready. Our approach to SXSW is no different. Each year, we create a SXSW edition of our blog and share notes from panels, links to research and findings and pictures of the most delicious barbeque. We do our best to share our experience with the marketing people who can't make the trek to Austin. This year, we're adding a few surprises to the mix.

Ben Kunz, director of strategic planning for Mediassociates, also takes a casual approach: "I found the real value being new connections with a handful of people in which our conversations started in Austin and blossomed outward over the following year. ... Our business-development approach is more partnership development -- finding agencies or kindred spirits that could do joint business development in the future."

Ian Schafer, founder and CEO of Deep Focus, suggests you put to work the tools and networks you already have in place before heading out to the conference: "We always make it a point to identify who is going to be down there. ... Leveraging our employees' Twitter followers and Facebook friends [has] been a good source of identifying [who'll be there]. Simply asking, 'Who's going to SXSW?' will yield a good enough response to start scheduling meetings from -- if you've got a big enough follower/friend base."

Schafer is right. What works at many other industry conferences doesn't always fly at SXSW. The culture, vibe and activities are more laid-back and casual. You'll need to tailor your approach to be appropriate to the audience. (Yes, tailoring your message to your audience is even more important in Austin.)

"I'd recommend to anyone attending that they ditch business cards and instead try to pick up the Twitter handles of 20 or so people, of the 400 they meet, who really seem interested in you and your work," suggests Kunz. "Those are the partners that will help you learn more in the coming year, and the connections they bring six months from now will lead you to new clients or new success."

Ian Schafer agrees. "Don't hard-sell. It's the most casual conference around. Jeans and sneakers are the norm. Don't ambush, don't whip out your netbook. Engage in natural conversation."

You can count on meeting our team in jeans, sneakers and barbecue-stained T-shirts. So what are your plans for Austin? Are you getting big in Texas with business, barbecue, beer or all of the above?

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Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker, the founder of creative agency Plaid and chief contributor to the greatest blog in all of the land, BrandFlakesForBreakfast. While his business card says he's "band manager" for the agency, Darryl prefers to call himself an internetologist. Darryl knows just enough to be dangerous. He's on the internet right now, playing, investigating and exploring. Watch out.

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