SXSW has become a must attend event for marketers

Next weekend, tens of thousands of people are going to descend on Austin, Texas for the annual South by Southwest Festival (SXSW).   Started in 1987, SXSW consists of three different festivals – film, interactive and music.  Historically the music festival has been the largest draw, though that has been changing in recent years as the interactive festival has gained prominence.

The recent popularity of the interactive festival has come thanks to a series of buzz worthy events that have taken place at the festival:

  • 2007 – Twitter first gained buzz and traction at the show
  • 2008 – The infamous Mark Zuckerberg interview with Sarah Lacy that gained a remarkable amount of press coverage (largely from folks calling the interview a “train wreck”)
  • 2009 – Foursquare officially launches in Austin at SXSW

As a result, 2011 is set to be one of the largest interactive festivals ever.  And in many ways, I think the show has emerged as a must attend for marketers for several reasons:

You won’t find a better place to experience digital first-hand: Thanks to the success of Twitter and Foursquare, you will find dozens of startups trying to “launch” at SXSW.  While few will ever breakthrough, its a great learning opportunity to experience the start-up world first hand.  Its also a great opportunity to see the true potential of companies like Hashable, Bump, etc that work best in a concentrated, tech-friendly environment.

You never know who you’ll meet or where you’ll end up: SXSW is one of those events where just about everyone has traveled into town for the event (ie, no one is a local).  As a result, people generally arent traveling in cliques or holing up at their favorite hang-out like you see in NYC or San Fran.   This creates a ton of serendipitous moments where you run into remarkably interesting people when you are least expecting it.

You won’t find a more eclectic collection of presentation and panel discussions: The official festival presentations are some of the more diverse that you’ll find at any conference and generally there are pretty frank discussions.  But they get even more interesting when you check out the presentations that are happening away from the Convention Center.  For instance, this year you can go see the Future of Mobile by PSFK at the Driskill Hotel or The Lean Startup at the AT&T Conference Center

Now with that said, some people are rumbling that 2011 will be “the end of SXSW” as those that made it “cool” now abandon it for being too popular. While this prediction may come true, it makes me think of Mark Twain’s infamous words – “”The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  For now, I’ll be enjoying an event that has become a must attend in my book.  See you in Austin.

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