A Peek Inside First-Time Experience at SXSW – Day 1

Fahlgren Mortine Associates Share Their Experience at SXSW Interactive

Fahlgren Mortine sent Mary Hoy and Dennis Brown to SXSW Interactive – neither of whom had experienced the event before. They shared their initial experiences with each other – and with us – in these emails.



We survived day one of SXSW Interactive. My morning started out suitably weird: when I went down to the hotel fitness room for a short run, I discovered a bearded, fully dressed man in a stocking cap curled up in the corner of the fitness room, snoring and wheezing like an old heating system. He stopped snoring when I started running, but otherwise didn’t move while I pounded on the treadmill for about 20 minutes.

I thought that might be a sign that this event was more about partying than learning, but I was wrong. The organization and quality of all the sessions I attended was impressive. I did struggle a little finding venues in the early part of the day — the event is very spread out, and the best strategy seems to be to find multiple events back-to-back in the same facility. Like you, I wanted to find sessions outside my comfort zone but ended up at the Sheraton in the afternoon attending two outstanding panels that are right in my wheelhouse. The first featured senior-level marketers from Dell, GE and L’Oreal reflecting on the question: is content marketing killing advertising? They provided some great content marketing examples with the general consensus being that advertising isn’t dead, it just looks different now than it used to. They also talked about the impact of content marketing on their organizations. No surprise to us, it is breaking down silos; integration is the challenge and the benefit. Here’s one especially interesting insight from GE: they have reorganized their marketing department into three groups: Creative, Performance (demand gen) and Disruption (new platforms and tactics).

The second panel featured Eamon Store, CEO of the Guardian’s US operation and Meredith Levien, executive vice president of advertising for the New York Times. They were both optimistic about the future of journalism (although not print) and for the potential for branded content. I was especially struck with this quote from Levien: “This is a golden age for marketers as they have more opportunities to connect with customers in meaningful ways than ever.”

I’ll end on that note. Looking forward to using the lessons from today in terms of navigating the venue to get even more out of tomorrow. How was your first day?




Like yours, my day was high energy, a little blurry and more serendipitous than I expected. Even though I heard brilliant insights over the course of the day, SXSW really is about people. I shared dinner with a wonderful group of people brought together by an Alan Ruck (Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) sighting and a discussion about the merits of Lone Star State beer. Bonding over the ethics of acknowledging “Cameron,” Matt, from California-based video production company Sprinkle Lab, offered me a seat at his table and his colleague Cameron (ironic!) joined us a few minutes later.

Following some initial pleasantries the three of us delved into a discussion of our sessions from the day. I couldn’t think of my favorite – too much task switching according to the guys from Hey Human who presented their neuroplasticity research – but had bits and pieces from each that stuck in my mind. The session that I wrote the least down in probably had the biggest potential for takeaway and inspiration: Ben Lerer, from Thrillist, talked about merging digital media with commerce, truly unique applications of content marketing and how respecting your audience pays dividends. Examples ranged from GE’s Moon Boots to how Showtime’s Ray Donovan picked up the tab for a lucky group of customers on the JackThreads website on the night of its premiere.

As I was getting into an existential explanation of my Heisenberg principle session from the folks at Blink, Caroline & Beck at the next table joined the discussion – they’d missed the session and wanted feedback. I tried to connect the dots for them between uncertainty, awareness and process and how it all relates back to Bruce Lee and Simone Weil, but I think we all realized that maybe I’d picked up a lot of fragments that I couldn’t quite tie together. None of us at the table were designers so the neuroplasticity of our brains wasn’t designed to fire those concepts together appropriately.

For the next few minutes we debated how different companies, such as Buzzfeed and Funny or Die, develop content. I’d listened to Buzzfeed talk about their analytics structures, home-grown CMS and how their company culture encourages failure in-so-far as it allows for researchable moments to improve future content. Caroline and Becky had listened to the guys from Funny or Die talk about the value of a gut feeling and how it shapes their approach to content creation. I was firmly planted in the analytics camp, while Cameron argued that content is emotional – which makes your gut a valuable tool.

As everyone scattered, we all agreed that we were taking the quote from Laura at Blink… “create a modular skill set that you can combine and restructure to tackle any situation,” to the bank… and probably also our LinkedIn profiles.


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