Every year, brands and agencies from all over the globe focus on connecting with the massive and trend-setting crowds that converge upon Austin, TX, in March. South by Southwest seems to allow for any brand’s hip-ness wish list aspirations to be fulfilled, and fuels many brand and account managers’ cool and edgy event domination daydreams.

But if the BBQ, interactive, film and music-infused flavor of Austin’s biggest event is not quite right for your brand, don’t feel left out, you are not alone. I propose that you have your very own SXSW, and there is much to glean from the original “South by” even if your boots won’t walk its gum and projection-lined sidewalks in person.


Learning From—But Not Going To—SXSW

SXSW is a must-attend event for many brands. It’s a well-established launching pad for any brand that can find a unique way to connect with its audience. The creativity and the audience expectations around what brands do in Austin are at their peak. From the festival’s best brand-powered pop-ups or tricked out food trucks, to its deeply customized and immersive interactive spaces—if it’s not done exceptionally well, it’s best left undone.

Would you rate your event presence as top-tier, highly creative and done exceptionally well? If not, how can you up the game at your most important events? Or, stated another way, how can you “SXSW-ify” your event?


EMC Outdoor - Webtoon - Rooftop Party

“Green Room” rooftop party for Webtoon at New York Comic Con.




The first step is to identify your major events; these are your South by’s. But do the names of these events land nonchalantly on the planning table once a year? Is your event marketing strategy suffering from same-old-same-old-ness (SOSO)? If so, I encourage you to look at them differently. Ask yourself, “How can we “SXSW-ify” what we do at this event?”

The epitome of SOSO is the tried and true sponsorships. (Lanyards anyone?) If you are relying on seeing new sponsorships in the event menu next year, you are on the SOSO path. It’s time to shake it up. But how?

If you are a major, influencing brand at an event, it’s a perfect place to test how you can shape and influence a main event in your industry. You could use your influence and long-term presence by suggesting bringing new, first-ever and cutting-edge sponsorships to the event. If you need help in imagining new sponsorships, look to an experiential event specialist. As a very brief plug: yes, EMC can definitely help.

If you do not have long-term or major influence status at your event, there’s still good news. You are perfectly positioned to shake things up and elevate the game as a disruptor brand. If you don’t currently see disruptors in your industry, I encourage you to take the mantle and run with it. What can you do to really surprise attendees with a unique event activation and presence that launches a new level of awareness around your brand?


Doing Something New

One place to start with new sponsorship concepts and disruptive event activations is to divert your attention away from the main interior activity. There is a plethora of additional activity away from the busyness of the event hall hive. Consider experiential activations, spectacular out of home placements or an innovatively designed digital/mobile integration. The hive is where all your competitors are also buzzing around and SOV is drowned out, so leave the hive. Follow the attendees flying free outside, and you’ll see a huge opportunity for more share of voice and an innovative presence.

Combine marketing and media tactics to reach your target audience at different times and in different ways with a consistent brand message. You can target attendees at an event by reaching them as they move around in the market.

Designing something new from the ground up at your organization is hard work, mostly because the template has not been made yet. Feeling uncertainty and excitement is not a lack of control, it’s the process of leaving the status quo behind. You’ll be striving for something excellent and original—even groundbreaking. If we think in these terms as event marketers, even a compromise to a more standard, practical plan in the eyes of the approval team will be a journey further down the path towards your next amazing event presence.

Partner with an event and experiential expert and explore ideas with them. Be fully transparent with them about what your team typically does, and the direction you would like to see your activations head. These steps mean your activation will be a valuable extension of your brand, message and experience. Getting to your SXSW might take some time, and planners appreciate the transparency when clients communicate the internal and event challenges they face.


EMC Outdoor - Travel South Dakota - Mt. Rushmore

Fabrication of Mt. Rushmore for Travel South Dakota in Chicago’s Millennium Park.


Creating Your Own Event

Are you ready to step away from your 100% reliance on someone else’s events by creating your own stand-alone, or mini SXSW?  This is where your vision can really come to life, and your team gets 100% control.  A great place to start is a small off-site event corresponding with a larger industry event. We see that these stand-alone events can be aligned or competitive in nature.

An experienced event specialist can help you scout locations and build from the ground up. They can provide ideas for promoting and driving attendance before and during the event.


Integrating Digital Amplification

One thing that we see too often is lack of digital tie-in and support for experiential activations. After all the hard work to create your very own South by and generate wonderful content, give it an extended life on social and digital channels. Share the imagery and success story online, and engage even more of your target audience.

Event specialists can bring insight to this extended promotion via digital strategies. They can add life to your event voice before, during, and after you and your audience have gone home. You can have a dynamic presence IRL with a robust amplification via URL.


Next Step: Account LAB

Would a strategy session help get things moving? EMC’s strategic team, Account LAB, is available for a session to discuss your ideas and launch your event. Our goal is to create deeply consultative and collaborative sessions with clients that produce their most successful campaigns.

Please reach out to me any time at jerry@emcoutdoor.com or complete the form below. I would love to discuss and assist with your next great event, no matter what stage of development you are in.