Looking back on SXSW Interactive 2015

Every year, South by Southwest Interactive brings together the most innovative, entrepreneurial and accomplished individuals to showcase their products and ideas in front of eager audiences. 2015 was certainly no different.

A number of PRSA Austin Chapter board members were in attendance and answered a few questions about their experience. Check out their insight below:

What was your favorite session/panel at SXSW Interactive and why?

  • Sara Lasseter: I immensely enjoyed the panel on the Next Generation of Retail Innovation with the CEOs and founders of StitchFix and Rent the Runway. They had wonderfully insightful commentary on the state of retail and ecommerce operations, as well as where they see their innovative companies going in the future. As a woman in the technology industry, it was inspiring to hear the obstacles they faced in a male dominated startup/venture capital world. 
  • Madison LaRoche: My favorite panel of SXSWi was on Reinventing the Cooking Show, in which representatives from PBS Food, ingredient sourcing show Original Fare and online cooking site ChefSteps.com discussed their experiences with digital cooking and food content. Regardless of their goals or plans for how their content would be consumed, all agreed that the digital format allowed for flexibility that was nonexistent in the time of Julia Child. Versus broadcast TV, the digital format allows for greater audience participation, allowing for content to create a feedback loop and a channel for dialog not previously available. At the close of the panel, the message was clear: stay true to the story you want to tell and maintain your authenticity in order to build and maintain brand equity. This lesson rings true well beyond the foodie content culture.
  • Erica Schuckies: My favorite session was called Entertainment and the Edge: Post Millennial Culture. Ian Pierpoint and Jack Horner (who both had very sexy English accents, by the way) provided insight into the minds of ‘Generation Edge,’ which consists of individuals born right after the Millennial generation (after 1995). Pierpoint’s research into this group showed that kids today are more socially aware of the pitfalls in our society and feel a responsibility to make positive changes more than any other generation (at least at their age). Horner described this generation as “rebels with a cause,” acting against the norm to make life better for not only themselves, but also their peers and future generations. Generation Edge is also more thoughtful of what they post on the web and social media; as Horner so eloquently put, “posting less shit.” Let’s hope this is true for all our sakes. 
  • Alison Kwong: I really enjoyed the Lyft keynote on Monday afternoon. CEO and co-founder Logan Green is such a smart, articulate spokesperson who was very clear about his company's story, vision and key differentiators from his competitors. It was apparent in the messaging and what he said about the marketing and plans for growth and future expansion. I also enjoyed Charles Barkley's panel about staying relevant in the digital age. As a well-respected member of the sports media, I thought his perspective on why he doesn't participate in social media was interesting as most of his peers and athletes do. The main takeaway was that authenticity and honesty go a long way in the media, especially in the sports industry.
  • Catherine Seeds: My favorite session by far was What Fashion Can Teach Women-Led Companies, which included a panel of the CEO and co-founder of Birchbox, the founder and CEO of Reformation Apparel and the founder and chief editor of Snob Essentials (Great blog on hand bags, by the way, if that is your thing!). This was a wonderful session on how these women have differentiated themselves and their companies by the way they communicate and engage with their customer base and by knowing exactly what their customers (mostly women) want and expect from these fashion and beauty brands. The panel discussed the social media effect on their companies, advice to other women on successfully launching their own companies, and some of the challenges they've faced as women-owned companies.

What were the trends that stood out to you while attending the Interactive portion?

  • Alison Kwong: Big data and analytics; the Internet of Things and how it drives innovation; the importance of good content.
  • Catherine Seeds: Retail tech was HUGE this year at SXSW.
  • Sara Lasseter: How to harness big data; mobile tech, of course; the customer experience.
  • Erica Schuckies: Customization of EVERYTHING, from wearables to user experiences to marketing & advertising; short-form video and social platforms catering to this concept (Meerkat, Meerkat, Meerkat); mobile-first mentality.

Did you Meerkat at all during SXSW Interactive? If so, what did you Meerkat?

  • Madison LaRoche: I downloaded Meerkat but was too scared/busy/uninterested to experiment with it at the time.
  • Erica Shuckies: Same as Madison – I downloaded the app with all intentions of Meerkatting my life away. To be completely honest, I kind of forgot about it most of the time, especially in moments that would have been perfect for it.

What was the coolest/most unique thing you saw during the Interactive portion?

  • Madison LaRoche: Unfortunately I didn’t see many amazing brand executions at SXSW this year, but to be honest, I wasn’t looking for them as hard as I have in the past. One of the most interesting panels I attended was the last Interactive Keynote of 2015, in which Dr. Astro Teller, captain of moonshots for Google[x], gave a passionate speech on failing with purpose. At his “moonshot factory” – a sci-fi-esque arm of Google devoted to exploring new technology to solve global problems – Teller encourages his colleagues to fail fast and harness those failures as learning opportunities toward success. He gave case study after case study of huge, time-intensive and expensive projects in which failure was part of the process to figure out what doesn’t work to get to what does. Though these examples were fascinating on their own, the best part of the speech was Teller’s extraordinary tenacity for and promotion of this “fail fast, fail often” approach. During the Q&A portion at the end, an obviously inspired but desperate attendee asked via Twitter how a company without the luxury and budget to fail could harness this approach. An exasperated Teller exclaimed that this poor soul missed the whole point of the talk, which was the simple fact that failing at the START of something (and being able to fix it) is much cheaper than failing at the END (when it’s simply too late to do anything about it).
  • Catherine Seeds: My colleagues and I had the opportunity to sit in on a session with the editor of Lucky Magazine, Eva Chen. She was fantastic and very down to earth. Here is a great write-up on her. 

If you weren’t able to attend the Interactive portion of SXSW this year, we did the hard work for you and compiled a list of some great SXSWi recaps. Be warned, there are plenty of Meerkat mentions.

How about we all meet back here around this time next year? Until then, we will be catching up on sleep, nursing our blisters and over-tweeted fingers, and putting our learnings to good use!