Once again, it's approaching SXSW time in Austin, and we thought we'd share this oldie-but-goodie bit of advice from Austin's Laura Beck--PR pro and founder of stripedshirt, a great source of striped t-shirts for families--with some great advice for technology firms heading into the conference.
I'm not kidding this just happened to me: this morning, last day of SXSW Interactive 2012, I get an urgent plea from a friend helping a friend who's "PR firm dropped the ball" b/c the client was ticked no one wrote about them yet, and they needed to call in some favors, get some coverage. This client launched at SXSW (and I'm not making this up): a Smartphone app that's a free mobile guide for events, complete with location based mapping and social media integration. iPhone only now, but coming soon for iPad, Android.
SERIOUSLY? You and about 2,000 other companies.
This one, is irritated with their PR people for not getting them enough coverage, especially after they got 50 requests for beta day 1. 50??? SXSW attracts over 20,000 tech people. 50? You are but a speck of sand on the beach, in so many ways.
Now, I feel for this PR person or firm, but really, ultimately, it's their own fault, and here's where this public service announcement blog post come in handy. Read it, believe it, remember it, and PLEASE please preach it from now on, for all the rest of us PR folks, and the press and bloggers, and the betterment of the tech companies of today and tomorrow.
DO NOT Launch at SXSW
The odds of you "being the next Twitter" are slim to none. And remember, that big moment for Twitter at SXSW 2007 wasn't its launch anyway. Jack sent the first tweet a full year earlier. SXSW 2007 is just when that "hockey stick moment" happened for Twitter and everyone has been trying to replicate that magic ever since. YOU CANNOT. It was MAGIC. This stuff sometimes happens at SX, often times does not.
Last year, you could argue Group.me and Uber were the buzz, but holy cow they put the money down to do so, whether hundreds of free grilled cheese sandwiches or branding every pedi cab in town. This year, this sweet delusional mobile apps company is competing against Amex launching Sync with freaking JAY Z. Seriously? How can anyone compete with that?
So, again, DO NOT LAUNCH AT SXSW. Or at least do not come expecting traditional PR, press and blogger meetings or coverage. Just do us a favor, and do not come here with those unrealistic expectations that kill us all.
But come! SXSW is an amazing 10 days, 5 (or more) of just us tech folks. There are 20,000 people here, and over 2,000 of em are press, bloggers, influencers. And they are here to meet, and talk, and network. BUT NOT TO BE PITCHED, not to commit to a sit down briefing or meeting.
They come once a year to Austin to put faces with names, meet the companies they covered last year, get their research in for companies to cover in the future, LEARN, and network. They want to spend time with the tech community, with each other.
They will not commit to time with you or make a packed schedule (or shouldn't) because at SXSW, you don't know what's coming at you when. You need to be fluid and flexible, and go with what happens. Enjoy the ride.
So PR people, please counsel your clients. And companies listen and learn. COME to SXSW, use it as an opportunity to talk to anyone and everyone about what you are up to, what you care about, and LISTEN to what they care about too. Talk with the masses, and tell them about your company, your apps, your tools, your location based social discovery smart phone apps. Do take advantage of the feeding frenzy that is 20,000 people combing the streets of Austin as awareness building, branding, marketing, stunts.
Enjoy the ride and that it is so crazy. Do not torture your PR person asking where "so and so" is, and why "such and such" didn't agree to a meeting. Do not come here thinking you are the next Twitter, or Amex Sync. Just come, and enjoy the experience, and respect the rest of us (including the press and analysts) doing the same. With the influencers, meet them, let them know you love their writing or read their story last week. Build relationships that will last you your tech life time. But don't pitch them or ask them for anything. Not this week.
I have done SXSW now since 2004. I have seen the show grow like crazy. I still love it. But maybe that's because I play it right. Along with friends, I created an event each night for a smaller group of people, including national – and local – press, bloggers, analysts, influencers, VIPs where you can go to just talk with people, hang out, catch up. A "no pitch zone." I do the same at any other events I hit, I enjoy the moment, don't party hop or try to catch Leo or Tobey. I don't look over my shoulder the entire time I'm talking with someone to see if anyone better is there. And I decline any PR project that comes my way that involves "launching at SXSW." I have a lot of press friends who I hope respect and like me, because I will NOT call in favors or abuse their time here at SXSW (or anytime).
Please keep this blog URL, PR peeps and tech entrepreneurs, because I promise, if you've gotten to the bottom and agree with me, you'll forget by SXSW 2013. Or you'll talk with someone who doesn't know, hasn't been here, and will need this advice. It's easy to get caught in the glamour of imaging you doing the PR for the next Twitter, being the "Next Big Thing At SXSW." But those odds are very slim, rare and Magic! DO NOT Launch at SXSW. Rather, just come and enjoy the experience. It'll serve you way better in the future, and over the crazy 5 days we live every March.
Laura Beck is a Boston-to-Austin girl, 12+ years doing high tech PR here making her almost a native. With a passion for start ups, she has now embarked on her own, stripedshirt, but continues doing marketing consulting for a host of Austin area companies and organizations. This was originally posted on Laura's blog.