AUSTIN, TEXAS —SXSW 2013 was, of course, a chaotic tornado of brilliant ‘aha’ moments, on-the-fly networking and random conversations. And the obvious headline being SXSW’s power to bring memes to life, demonstrated by Mashable’s Grumpy Cat stunt.
But also evident this year was a push-pull dynamic as the show grows larger and is faced with the inescapable conundrum of catering to a bigger audience, while still upholding a high standard for sessions. Perhaps because this year's growth hovered five to 8 percent over 2012, there either weren't enough sessions or there weren't enough of the right ones. This was evident in the meandering, sometimes hopeless, lines to get into sought-after talks.
Amid all of this, here are a few notable PR takeaways from the show.
• Think of data science like journalism — The most productive trend this year was helping storytellers — traditional or brand journalists — take action on big data. Zanab Hussain, data scientist at SimpleReach, gave a 15-minute talk “Data Science Through the Lens of Journalism” in which she pointed out that whether you’re collecting quantitative or qualitative information, the ultimate objective is teasing out a narrative. This could also be applied to using data to develop strategic ideas or crafting insightful after-action reports. Notably, Hussain warned against treating data science “like magic.” Just like source expertise needs to be verified, the process for collecting and cleaning data should be questioned and understood to avoid making invalid claims for your brand or agency.
• Data levels the media playing field— One of the best brand journalism examples came from Liv Buli, data journalist at the Next Big Sound, a company that tracks social signals for the music industry. During the “Journalism by the #s: Data Will Change the Nature of News” panel, she gave an example of when Spin magazine ran a piece saying people were tired of Lady Gaga based on her declining search popularity. At the time, Buli compared this against the singer’s Facebook, Twitter, VEVO and Instagram activity to conclude on Next Big Sound’s blog, Lady Gaga is, in fact, not in danger of plunging into oblivion.
• Put a stake in the ground — Among the PR agencies at SXSW to build visibility, the most successful had a clear purpose. For instance, WCG was there to showcase its work around social commerce, inviting mostly clients, to a day-long summit to share best practices. Hill + Knowlton Strategies sponsored panels on data applied to brand storytelling, journalism and politics. Apparently, crowds started lining up before 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning -- almost two hours before kick-off -- for H+K's "data day" sessions. Even Fleishman-Hillard’s well-positioned Black Box at the Four Seasons drew good crowds with its “command and control center” powered by Bottlenose.
• Social as CRM — The marketing cloud giants made their presence known at the show: Salesforce, not only had a massive lounge in downtown Austin, the company held a media brunch with its marketing cloud CMO Michael Lazerow. Meanwhile, Adobe held a marketing camp with the provocative “Marketing is BS” lure. The ultimate takeaway for PR professionals being — there’s a move towards social data being culled for sales leads. This will require a more complex social integration within an organization and likely accelerate the trend of community management moving in-house. Or as a high-level digital strategist at a large agency told me: “I don’t think community management will be a viable service for PR agencies in a few a years."