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Hotwire Insights from SXSW 2024: A Tech Focus


Hotwire Global

by Whitney Wells, SVP and Jessica Heagerty, SVP

SXSW has increasingly become more tech-focused over the years, and Hotwire’s clients and prospective clients have a place at this event in the tech tracks. Our presence enabled us to form connections, bring learnings back to our team, and gain new perspective on the ways our clients can show up at SXSW in particular.

Planning for SXSW: Hotwire’s Strategy

If you’ve been to SXSW before, you know there are innumerable sessions that are worth attending. We set out to curating our schedules beforehand, though we learned a few things along the way.

  • Plan ahead: Hotwire currated a schedule of sessions and took a “divide and conquer” approach to attending.
  • Be flexible: With a plan in place you can set out to maximize your day, but ensuring you are flexible is crucial as some sessions fill up faster than anticipated, and connection-building should take precedence.
  • Don’t forget to eat: Drinks are plentiful but food? Not so much. Factor in some pit stops for food to keep you on the move from morning to night

To understand how we leverage similar events to amplify brand presence, check out our event marketing services.

Key Sessions and Takeaways from SXSW 2024

Hotwire’s onsite team shared some of their favorite sessions:

“The ‘Future of Work’ session by Annie Dean and Jane Thier stood out with its data-driven insights and engaging discussions.”

Whitney Wells, SVP

“I was captivated by ‘Supercommunicators’ by Charles Duhigg. His clear thesis and interactive approach were so compelling that I ordered his book during the session!”

Jessica Heagerty, SVP
image of people in meeting with metrics on board speaking

Tips for Brands at SXSW

For clients looking to secure a coveted panel spot, we discovered a number of key insights:

  • Start early! – The PanelPicker process starts in June, which means you’ll need to be somewhat of a futuregazer in finding a topic that will remain relevant 6 months later. Panels are selected by a mix of community voting, SXSW advisory board, and SXSW staff.
  • Partner with a journalist – From Jon Swartz to Jane Thier, journalists were everywhere at SXSW lending their savvy interviewing skills to keep the discussion flowing, and in many cases, finding inspiration for stories. Across the panels and in the audience were folks from CNN, WSJ, Fast Company, New Yorker and more.
  • Or be the author – If you or someone within your brand has written a book on a relevant topic, it’s a great way to secure a panel summarizing some key points and reading from select passages. SXSW even has a book store where they host book signings with the authors and you can purchase the books on-site. Our very own Heather Kernahan hosted a session at SXSW on her book “Unstuckable” offering business leaders advice on getting unstuck using tools from tech innovators.
  • It’s not about the attendance – While attracting big numbers is great, SXSW cares more about the feedback they receive from attendees when deciding whether to invite a speaker back in the future.
  • Stay true to your proposal – We also heard that attendees get most frustrated when the topic description in the session guide doesn’t match reality.
  • Know the audience – SXSW interactive caters primarily to tech startups, marketers, creatives, tech practitioners and consumers. Make sure your content will resonate with those audiences. This is not the place to court SMBs or enterprise customers.
  • Keep it fresh – After a while it was hard to make sense of all the different AI sessions. While there will be hot topics, make sure you are taking a truly unique angle to stand out or have uniquely qualified expertise on the topic. There was an AI ethics panel with someone who could speak to a specific incident in the Dutch government that helped ground the topic in a real example of AI gone wrong and how they remedied it for future.

image of shots from SXSW from HK UNSTUCKABLE panel and other sessions from event

Experiential Branding at SXSW

For brands looking to host something more experiential at SXSW, here are some key tips:

  • Make it interactive and Personal! People at SXSW are looking for an experience, not another photo opp and branded swag. Whitney Wells stopped by a Canva activation at the Fast Company Grill where she took a survey on her leadership style and got a customized hat with her leadership mantra on it! One of our clients, Cricut had a customized tote bag making station at the Female Quotient Lounge that had a continuous line all weekend. Other brands like Audible, Spotify, Snapchat, LaCroix, Dell and Delta were out in full force taking over entire buildings, and open spaces to create unique brand experiences.
  • Sponsor a track – IBM this year was the branded sponsor of the AI track so their name was everywhere. They also had a coffee break room with an IBM watsonx™ powered ping-pong table for festival-goers to visit in between sessions.
  • Host a dinner/Hospitality – It’s not uncommon to have popular venues completely bought out during SXSW for private events. We saw brands hosting dinners for customers, prospects and media, others hosting an open bar with some custom panels built in. There were media-specific houses like Fast Company’s Grill, The Lively & Grit Daily House, Axios House and more that had their own programming throughout the day as well as hospitality.

Our experience with SXSW shows that comprehensive brand representation at such events can yield substantial benefits. A prime example of this is in some of our client work, where we developed strategies to evolve their audience relationships. Explore our events services.

image of sessions from SXSW

Wrapping Up SXSW 2024

Overall SXSW offered a great way to get inspired, think differently and meet tons of new people. We picked up friends along the way to hop from event to event, and connected on LinkedIn with a number of new journalists and marketers doing interesting work.

If you connected with us on-site, thank you for making it a fun week of learning.

Interested in maximizing your brand’s impact at events like SXSW? Contact us for expert event marketing strategies and insights!