SXSW 2013, the premier destination for creativity and discovery

SXSW_2013_LogoWhat a wonderful week attending South by Southwest (SXSW) my favourite film, interactive and music conference that takes place every spring in Austin Texas.

SXSW 2012 was a transmedia learning experience for me, see last year’s post here

This year I planned well and organised a great schedule. I even put together a MOG playlist to download of the music I wanted to see.

Before departing I was asked by Ad News magazine to send a few blog posts during the week. Below are links to the stories on their web site.

Blog 1 – Tablet storytelling, 3D printing and fast creations

Blog 2 – Smartphone geolocation apps, Danny Boyle, art theft and hypnosis

Blog 3 – SXSW is the the “new” Cannes

Ad News also asked me to write an article for the magazine. Below is the story I wrote on the flight back to Sydney.



The South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival is held every spring in early March Austin, Texas. The event offers a unique convergence of emerging technologies, original music and independent films that foster’s the creative and professional growth of anybody who has a career in the communication industry.

In my opinion SXSW is the premier destination for creativity and discovery.

SXSW began in 1987, and has continued to grow in size and evolve each and every year since. It includes SXSW Interactive popular with advertising industry lasting for five days, Music for six and Film running concurrently for nine days.

This year was my second time attending and I must say I handled the occasion must better.

Last year while I found SXSW an innovation smorgasbord I was completely overwhelmed at times by its size and spent far too much time worried about how to navigate the what seemed thousands of talks, panels, workshop and events to attend.

This year I approached it differently, as I learnt the secret is to ease into the event and let each and every day wash over you as you obtain the bursts of inspiration and insight.


The quality of the SXSW product is world class. From a conversation with Nick Cave about his creative craft, Nick said, ‘I seem to have spent my whole life butting up against people with no imagination’

To Jason Silva the National Geographic Channel’s Brain Games genius who spoke about a world where the exponential progression of technology is increasingly shrinking the lag time between what we can imagine and what we can create.

From the Smashing Pumpkins to the Poynter Institute’s major study of storytelling on smart phones and tablets where it was outlined how the elements of touch, gesture, interactivity and position come together to create engaging, satisfying customer experiences.

From the performance of Prince on the La Zona Rosa stage with a 21-piece band for Samsung or the more intimate talk from Dr Mario R. García an American former newspaper of forty years who passionately spoke to the audience on how all traditional publishers should now forget about producing product for magazine or newspaper first. It must be mobile first thinking for all publishers and everything else next. He said remember the eye, brain and the finger or was that Prince who said that?

From Cirque du Soleil and Nerdist who joined forces for a one-of-a-kind evening featuring artistic performances presented by Google, Adobe and Klout to a packed hall to see Danny Boyle the Academy Award winning director insights on his twenty years pushing the creative boundaries in filmmaking with work as diverse as Train Spotting, Slum dog Millionaire, to the Opening London Olympics Ceremony. One audience member asked Richard why you turned down a knighthood. Danny replied unassumingly and in wonderful way, “It just wasn’t my cup of tea”.


From seeing Bre Pettis the inventor of Makerbot and on ongoing developments of the 3D printing revolution to just leveraging geolocation and geofences with the SXSW Go mobile app or being inspired by Jeff Goodby, co-founder and co-chair of San Francisco agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners via his ‘off Broadway’ pop SXSW event at the Driskill Hotel. Jeff brought together Livia Tortella, chief operating officer of Warner Bros Records, angel investors Aileen Lee and Bing Gordon, Ideo’s Paul Bennett, Lucas Film’s Ivan Askwit and Damian Kulash, lead singer of OK Go, who played an acoustic set at the after party, The get together was an exclusive, candid discussion moderated by Goodby entitled “So When The Hell Do You Sleep.

My first tip if you want to go SXSW in 2014, it’s best to book early for not only accommodation but all to get a Platinum badge. As soon as the badges are put on sale Platinum as it’s the same price as Interactive if you get in early.

My thinking is why limit you to one side of SXSW. You are best to stay and play with creative discovery streams Music, Film, and Interactive regardless of your creative profession.

On that the second tip is to go outside your profession when you are organising your topics to attend. If you in media go and see some design, art direction or costume making. If you’re in data or analytics go and see a film direction workshop. If you are a social media expect go and see some music. Actually definitely go and see some music if you are a so called social media expect. You need to get out more.

My seven days at SXSW this year was extremely rewarding on so some many levels. In some ways it’s a bit like going back to university and seeing all your old class mates where you are swapping stories and discussing talks and trying to solve all the problems of the world.

In other ways SXSW is a bit like a health retreat as its breaks all your bad creative habits and you see certain things you are doing is now no longer effective and you need to make some big changes when you get back.

No doubt Interactive which starts the show is the most frantic of the nine days so many advertising agency professionals, geeks and entrepreneurs seem to speed everything up for a day or two all trying to fail fast.


Things in the Interactive world move fast and as software continues to eat up the world everyone is looking for the smallest advantage to get one up on their competition.

That said digital people are really good at copying things. All the talks are tweeted, photos taken of panel presentations and for the next twelve months agencies will use this copied material in every marketing presentation to clients. Some digital people seem to like to go to a panel, tweet, bagged it out and leave. For god sake go and meet the people at the end of the talk and share you thoughts. Tweeting when you 5 metres away from them is pathetic.

It’s actually not so much the bantering in the panel talk that I get inspired with. It’s meeting the panellists and having a chat with them and hopefully finding a time to have breakfast, lunch or dinner or a drink with them at some point at the event. Maybe I’m just a stalker.

The real discovery moments for me tend to come from when the event starts to slow down a bit via film and music streams. The profession here is all about the craft, the creative process, the techniques and the constant drive of storytelling. Digital tends to stay in the platform itself. It’s like in the 1960’s someone said you need to do TV. Yeah I know that.

Listening to how the film and music industry is adapting to the digital explosion is fascinating. As an Australian film and television graduate I do find spending time with industries that want to create content and experiences much more interesting then marketing messages in short bursts.


So many industries however are changing fast now. From media to retail every company is adapting to their audience who have moved to mobile and tablet as their main source of information and entertainment.

There are some very exciting innovations about to drop in a number of industries and the advertising industry better be prepared to match them on what they need to engage audience who are consuming brands and experiences on the go. How they mix art and science is going to be the true winners.

Brands are now telling Interactive stories and delivering them mobile first before they look to go across multiple platforms and channels over time. It’s more than just integrating online and offline experiences. It’s about dispersing the story systematically across multiple media, each making their own unique contribution to the whole.

The big insight from SXSW is spending 50% on the idea and 50% on how people are going to hear about it. Jonah Peretti CEO and Founder of BuzzFeed said is an engaging power talk ‘learn from the Mormons’. You might have an idea but focus on how you to spread it and no doubt focus on that spreading on the communication device they have with them all the time.

See you at SXSW in 2014

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