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March 18th, 2011

Navigating SXSW From the Agency Perspective

#sxsw monsterThere is an image, not entirely unearned, of the social media conference – in particular, but not limited to, the just-concluded South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Interactive – as a boondoggle for the social media marketer, a place of endless parties, meeting and greeting the same people we talk to about the same things all the time, and even a “geek spring break” where you can destroy your personal brand in one swift unwise but very public movement. Oh, and of course, for egomaniacal social media marketers to polish their “internet famous” rock star reputations and hold out their rings for minions to kiss.

Yeah, that happens- but that’s not really the focus. That’s not why we were there, and it’s easy to forget the many people (including some who are often accused of being social media prima-donnas) who work harder than we sometimes remember is possible to achieve business success.

Most of us go to to these conferences and trade shows to serve clients- or to state it in higher-level language, to do business. Having just returned from SXSW with our client, Monster Worldwide, this point is freshly burned on my mind.

Trade shows are hard work, and I want to point out the folks that make these things work:

  • The corporate marketing teams, who before they even decide to attend these shows with a plan and a goal- who won’t even commit a dime of budget to participate without one. Who know what they want and are charged with figuring out how to get it.

  • The agencies, who use their knowledge, skills and contacts to help the client formulate a goal and devise ways to reach it. Who help identify the partners to work with, iron out the details, and often serve as a liaison between a client’s various departments and the partners’ to make sure things get done (yes, this is, in a way, tooting our horn a bit- I’m never going to pretend we shouldn’t do that from time to time).

  • The corporate event teams, who put in fantastically long hours on their feet on trade show floors making sure trade show attendees know why the company is there. Who make sure every detail of booths, collateral and all logistics is in place.

  • The public relations crew– both in-house and agency- who deal with an overwhelmed group of reporters, editors and bloggers to make sure they get what they need and cover what the company is there to talk about.

  • The corporate executives and spokespeople, who are responsible for developing and directly disseminating the company’s new messages. Who tirelessly make themselves available to press, business partners, and event organizers.

  • The vendor partners, who need to provide an event service with a point. Who are helping create an experience around a company’s presence that is not mere gimmick but that support the company’s presence and mission. In our case, organizations from Gowalla (who put together a series of location-based “cool jobs” check-ins on the trade show floor) to DailyFeats (who introduced careers-themed action-oriented checkin activities) to TechKaraoke (who ¬†worked quickly to accommodate organizational needs from both the client and the conference) to the SXSW organizers themselves- had a lot of say and a lot of responsibility. These relationships are work, as fun as it is to work with them.

  • Sales people, product teams, and other folks who also tirelessly support the company’s presence at the event, not to mention their reason for being.

Together these folks think up, plan and execute ways to present the company in a way that makes a presence at a show a worthwhile expenditure. Having watched the work go into months of planning, from ideas to execution, I am impressed by how a very large group of people came together to pull off a very complex trade show presence..

The next time someone tries to tell you one of these conferences is just a long party look at what companies and agencies are really doing before making your own judgment.*

*That’s not to say that people aren’t having fun. Much of it is well-earned (and our jobs are fun anyway, aren’t they?) It’s also not to say that people aren’t buying into the “social media rock star” game either. But it’s far from the most common game in town.

About the Author
Doug Haslam is a Supervisor on the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing client programs and developing strategy. In addition to Voce Nation, Doug writes his own personal blog and you can find him on Twitter as @dough.

Filed in Events, Voce Clients

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