After eight SXSW conferences, I’ve learned that the hard way. When my company was first getting off the ground, we were completely lost in the shuffle, despite our best efforts. In 2012, however, we had a 28-foot-long, 15,000-pound secret weapon. To stand out amid the gala parties and blow-out bashes hosted by much bigger tech companies, HootSuite decided to take to the streets. We transformed a Ford E-450 shuttle bus into possibly the world’s biggest owl, in honor of our mascot – mounting a pair of giant eyes above the windshield and affixing enormous plastic wings on the sides.
Cheesy? Yes. Effective, absolutely. By the end of the conference, our logo had been splashed across the pages of USA Today, Mashable and Inc. The conference’s highest profile attendees were clamoring to get on board and party with us. And investors whom I didn’t even know were inquiring about thecompany. In the end, it cost us around $30,000 to buy and outfit the vehicle. Considering that hosting just a single party at SXSW can cost as much, if not more, that’s an absolute steal. This year, in fact, we’re bringing HootBus back for its third ride.
With another action-packed #SXSW come and gone, I’m now back in Vancouver, enjoying a plate of pancakes and an overflowing inbox staring me straight in the eyes. Upon my arrival, I found myself quoted in the Wall Street Journal, and felt pretty cool.
Here’s an excerpt and one of my top tips year-after-year for SX goers:
One way you may be able to tell apart investors and other bigwigs from the masses at South By Southwest is by zeroing on people’s feet, suggests Dave Olson, vice president of community for HootSuite, a social-media-management platform. While almost everyone wears hoodies, jeans and other casual attire, high fliers tend be the only ones sporting “rare vintage Puma sneakers” or other fancy footwear, he says.
Hazy with a sore throat, Uncle Weed documents journies to the legendary Salt Lick bar-b-q for a slice of rural Texas, plus breakfast oysters, trip to riverside green belt, and rocking out to Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears at the Twitter party at The Parish. Plus riffs about drought, reasons for free beer, Big Muff guitar pedals, and forgetfulness, and plans a scant agenda of conferencing and recording.
En route to breakfast at SXSW, Uncle Weed recounts a night of arts and crafts burlesque and barbarians at Emo’s Jr. and forays to various Austin bars and various dot-com parties for tasty beers. Stops include smoothies at The Hideout, Counter Cafe for pancakes, plus field notes about lanyards and badges, making marketing envelopes, living on appetizers, creekside flora, joys of the quaffable Shiner Bock, magicians and performance troupe, beat/stump boxer, pedi-cab escapes, and closing down an elegant hotel loaded with drunkards in disarray.
On the opening night of SXSW Interactive/Music/Film fest in Austin, Texas, Uncle Weed strolls 6th St. in search of rolling papers and describes the surroundings of partiers from geeks to spring breakers, police on horseback, tattoo parlours, death metal pizza, bars, grills, taverns, microbrews, civic economics and impending cultural chaos. Featuring music by Dan Mangan “Road Regrets” and The Numbskulz.
“We are the naked marketers. Hosts Pete Wright, Megan Strand, and Dane Christensen and guests are dedicated to pulling back the veil on marketing ridiculousness and folly, and helping communicators develop a strategy that is both effective, authentic, and fully awesome.”