SXSWi – is it business or a big party?

Jeremy Pepper – one of a handful of people worldwide who I’d trust to properly do public relations and social media – has a great post on why he’s not going to SXSWi. Jeremy quite rightly questions the business value of it. I started to respond in the comments, but then realised I actually had even more to say.

SXSWi Digital Mission 2010 Although I’ve looked at going in the past, this is my first year at SXSWi. I’m only here because I’m part of a UK government trade mission organised by Chinwag on behalf of UK Trade & Investment. The companies on the Digital Mission are meant to be the best of UK digital excellence.

One of the big advantages is that Digital Mission has a big exhibition stand in the trade expo so Wolfstar gets to exhibit at SXSWi at very low cost. As one of the few companies in Europe capable of delivering pan-European, EMEA and global social media campaigns it should be an opportunity for us to get that message across to US companies wanting to expand into the UK and Europe.

Another business reason for being here is that Wolfstar is seriously looking to expand into the USA, either through a strategic partnership with an existing consultancy that has the right expertise or by recruiting the right person to help us start it up. Virtual relationships are great, but I need to look people in the face and shake their hand to get a feel if they’ll be the right partners. SXSWi is a good opportunity to meet people from both the west and east coast at the same time.

I’m also here to look at SXSW film, music and interactive because I’ve got an idea for a client and wanted to scope it out, before putting forward a business case.

Finally there is always the chance that something might just ‘fall out’ of the visit and luckily for me after just one day it already has. I’ve met a new contact who’s given me some great advice for what we can do with a new client that we’re just about to start working with.

So that’s the upside of SXSWi, now for the downside. Jeremy’s absolutely right, Austin is packed full of social media people who think the world of themselves and appear to be here for one big party. At one event I attended yesterday I felt extremely uncomfortable to be introduced as ‘we’re honoured because we’ve got a social media celebrity from Europe who’s come all the way to see us.’ Whoa, no people! If you want to introduce me then it’s as CEO/MD of an award-winning UK-based global public relations and social media consultancy. That’s quite grand enough for me, thank you very much.

The ‘groupie’ mentality is truly shocking as people swarm to party venues where they think they can see a social media guru. Not talk to or chat to, but simply to breath the same air or in one case to ‘watch them eat’. Have you seen some of the tweets? Get a grip on reality people.

So for the record, I’m here to work. If you want meet then DM or @stuartbruce on Twitter or drop by the UK Digital Mission stand – look for the big red London bus.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://www.staffingtalk.com/ gregg dourgarian

    Enjoyed this essay very much, Stuart. Thanks. I'm not at SXSW but I've noticed you UK guys write a hell of a lot better than we do over here.
    Gregg, in Minnesota

  • http://pop-pr.blogspot.com Jeremy Pepper

    I am honoured (spelled the UK way for you) and flattered at your description. And you hit it on the head. There ARE people there that are at SXSWi (and the full SXSW) for real business reasons, but it gets drowned out by the parties and the inane adoration.

    Heck, I've run into that at events – OMG, I wanted to meet you so badly – and I'm like, um, it's me. I ain't that special. I just do my work, see what I see, and try to marry PR and social media to where it's about PR, and SM is just a tool.

    Thanks for the kudos, and thanks for putting it perfectly what SXSW _should_ be about, and how it can be that way.