6 Tips for PR Pros at SXSW—and for Those Keeping Score at Home

Friday, March 9, marks the beginning of the latest iteration of the SXSW (Film, Music and Interactive) Festival. Scores of PR professionals are descending upon Austin, Texas, to witness the latest news and trends in technology, media and music—and, of course, have some fun while doing it. The festival has boomed in popularity in recent years, becoming exponentially larger. Just from the interactive side, it was the site of Foursquare’s launch (2009) and it was where Twitter achieved a great initial boost of popularity (2007).

It’s easy to see why PR professionals and brands keep a close eye on SXSW, whether they are attending or not. With that in mind, Stephanie Agresta, EVP and managing director of social media, Weber Shandwick, offers some quick tips on what PR pros should keep in mind before diving into the smorgasbord of events and information.

  1. Remember, PR pros are not the outsiders. The most important thing to remember is that you are part of the SXSW community. “PR pros need to get there as a community member, not someone who is going to pitch," says Agresta. "SXSW is based on a community of learning. So what’s more important is to get there, and always be listening and connecting.”

  2. Be sure to check out the keynotes. From a content perspective, keynotes always tend to be the bellwether events. She cites how Foursquare and Twitter, as well as an infamous interview conducted by tech journalist Sarah Lacy with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, exploded at SXSW.

  3. Network till you drop. “There are so many events and parties that you can attend,” says Agresta. Numerous companies set up mini-convention centers of their own outside the main convention center, and they provide a great opportunity to network. Agresta recommends the Mashable SXSWi House and, of course, one that was developed five years ago by Agresta herself: the Blogger Lounge, sponsored by Samsung. It’s on the fourth floor, room 19AB, of the Austin Convention Center. "A SXSWi badge is required to get in there, but it is a major hub for social influencers,” says Agresta. “There will be refreshments, book signings, top authors such as Brian Solis and Jason Falls will be there.”

  4. Find ways to break through the clutter. With the number of people coming to SXSW growing every year—doubling ever year in the last five years, according to Agresta—it’s necessary for attendees to figure out ways to manage their time more efficiently. “It’s hard to filter; it’s very busy and very crowded,” she says. To that end, Agresta advises using Foursquare. “Everybody checks in on Foursquare—panels, parties and other events, it’s a great way to see who is there,” she says.

  5. If you’re not attending, you can still keep track of the event online and through social media. This year, SXSW is live-streaming events, which are available to be viewed on SXSW.com. In addition, use the #SXSW hashtag when on Twitter. “It is the best way to follow what everyone is talking about—what the biggest panels are, what the buzz is, emerging start-ups, and so on,” she says.

  6. And last, but certainly not least, enjoy the city. Agresta personally recommends the South Congress neighborhood of Austin. Just a short cab ride away, it’s the “hipster hotspot for great little boutiques, bars and restaurants. It is definitely worth the cab fare,” says Agresta. And, lest you worry, it's a cheap ride.

There's no question that SXSW will be a hot topic from the day it opens to the day it closes on March 18. Remember to stay hydrated, whether you're in Austin or in the office.

Follow Sahil Patel: @sizpatel