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Recap: The Best of SXSW 2017


Slowly becoming famous for being the Comic-Con of short films, movies, music, and talks on a variety of topics, SXSW has ended, but not without a recap of the best moments. From politics to technology, and numerous other topics of conversation, the event offered something for everyone.

Celebrating the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries, SXSW happens yearly to help creative people achieve their goals. The event educates and inspires people on a variety of topics. If you couldn’t make it this year, but still want to know about the highlights, please read on.

Movies And TV Shows

Thousands visit SXSW for its incredible insight into what the film industry is concocting for the year to come. In the past, films such as Furious 7 and Trainwreck hit the screens in Austin before being screened in cinemas across the country. Because I can’t go through all the amazing films and TV shows from this years, here’s some of the top rated shows from the event:

  • The Disaster Artist: James Franco’s performance in The Disaster Artist has received incredible reviews since its debut at SXSW. The film is based on a non-fictional book, The Room. Despite the skepticism of many, it has now been considered a very early contender for the Oscars of this year.
  • Song To Song: Song To Song stars Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, and Ryan Gosling, and is a beautiful, musically-themed puzzle set in Austin, something that surely made the audience feel very much part of the film.
  • Dear White People: Dear White People felt like it resonated with this year’s audience because of all the cultural and political changes the world faced in 2016. This Netflix series is a must-see, as it shows Ivy League University students faced with social and political injustice, activism, and cultural bias.

Film Keynote Speakers

SXSW wasn’t just about the films themselves. Film keynote speakers took to the stage, highlighting some of the most important questions the film industry is facing today. Some of the most prominent ones included:

  • Jill Soloway
  • Lee Daniels
  • Gareth Edwards


Music also made a serious boom this year, with performances of all genres from a huge variety of artists from across the country. Some of the most-talked-about artists from SXSW 2017 include:

  • Alex Napping: Alex Napping stole the stage on the first day, gently rocking the audience at SXSW. The New York-based band spoke to its audience with deeply personal and slightly groovy music that told a true story with a beat. They shared some of their material from their upcoming album, Mise En Place.
  • Forth Wanderers: Forth Wanderers are really the ones to watch out for this year. This 5-man band, led by 20-year old Ava Trilling, played some of the most memorable songs at the event.
  • Jay Som: Jay Som’s Melina Duterte took over the stage despite her small stature. Her unmistakable presence was one of the best acts at SXSW. The band combined incredible musical talent, with a great sense of humor, and the perfect amount of humble pie.

Music Keynote Speakers

Film wasn’t the only industry to bring in the experts. SXSW had some amazing music figures take the stage, not to play their music, but to share their views and personal experiences. One keynote speaker that stood out from the crowd was Neil Rodgers, who spoke about discovery and how he and others can, and did, make it happen.


Aside from film and music, SXSW welcomed a number of talks, panels, and workshops to the event, all of which shared their views and proven methods for success in a variety of industries. Some of these included, but were not limited to:

  • Brands and marketing
  • Design
  • Development and code
  • Government and politics
  • The tech industry
  • The workplace
  • Influencers
  • Social impact

SXSW 2017 was a perfect opportunity for marketers, musicians, filmmakers, and all types of industry professionals to come and learn from the best. Here’s a few of the better sessions I attended:

  • 15,000-Year-Old Marketing Strategy: Why It Works- The session explored the notion of storytelling and how compelling narrative encourages brand loyalty.
  • 100 Million People You Don’t Know, But Should- The discussion aimed to open marketers’ eyes to get them out of their bubble to further understand and sell to the more general population of America.
  • A/B Testing Secrets Revealed: Uber, Etsy & Intuit- The panel was about how A/B testing can unlock information needed to enhance conversions, engagement, and user retention.
  • Artificial Intelligence & Bots: Strategy and Execution- With bots now taking over the marketing world, it seemed appropriate to mention this 3-hour interactive workshop. This workshop covered everything from the latest AI technology to how to design and deploy a chatbot. There was a great talk by Rob Harles, Managing Director of Accenture Digital about bots with examples in travel and customer service. (Disclosure my wife works for Accenture.)

Julia Ioffe And Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone

Although SXSW maintained its focus on tech and innovation, a new topic seemed to dissipate throughout the event: how some tech has not made the world a better place. This was especially apparent as Julia Ioffe and Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone honestly discussed the rise of antisemitism online.

But, it wasn’t just these two who felt people should be aware of how tech can be used in a negative way. Other panels and talks included:

  • Kesha with a panel on reclaiming the internet
  • Yasmin Green with the rise of fake news
  • Kate Crawford with a panel called “Dark Days: AI and the Rise of Fascism”

With the above in mind, it is worth noting that one of the most prominent and original launches at SXSW this year was an Anti-Defamation League Command Center for fighting cyber-hate.


As with every SXSW event, the music and film industries came in strong, launching a variety of amazing movies, TV shows, and albums that everyone will be waiting for with anticipation in 2017.

But, this year took a different twist to other ones’, with more being openly discussed on the negative impact of technology and the internet, as well as its advantages. With this unexpected twist, I’m really looking forward to what 2018 has in store and whether or not the audience from 2017 will take into account some of these new views and insights.

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Recap: The Best of SXSW 2017

As You Consider Attending SXSW 2016, Here’s What Was Awesome About SXSW 2015


It’s sort of passe to talk about how much SXSW has changed over the years because, well, it has and there’s no going back. If you feel the need to reminisce or wallow in the past, you can read this, this, this, this and this.

Or you can put you mind in a more upbeat mode and read 6 Reasons Why SXSW is Still Awesome, written after last year’s SXSW.

In any case, let’s move on. Did you go to SXSW this year? What did you think? Did you get out of it what you expected? More? Less?

Let’s take a look at some of what transpired during this year’s SXSW Interactive.

That Women Everyone Fell For on Tinder


To promote the movie Ex Machina, which was premiering at SXSW this year, the producers of the film created a “fake” Tinder profile under the name Ava. Ava engaged with many people but the link in her bio let to the film’s promotional website. Turns out, Ava was actually Swedish actress Alicia Vikander who appears in the film. Some thought the promotion was a bit porn bot-ish. Others loved it.

Marketers Get Creepy With Customer Data


In a session entitled Malevolent Marketing led by Robbie Whiting, founder of San Francisco-based Argonaut and Razorfish exec Garrick Schmitt, dressed entirely in black, took a look at the various ways marketers are, in essence, taking advantage of people by misusing customer data. Putting it to to the audience, what seemed to bother people the most was the proliferation of Internet of Things devices which gather personal information and TV sets with always on listening technology.

When the moderators asked the audience to develop, on the fly, a malevolent marketing-style product, they came up with Perfect You. As Forbes contributor George Anders summarized, “It would consist of a three-dimensional body scanner at the entrance to clothing stores, which would spew its results into a series of photo-rendering displays throughout the store — showing digitally manipulated pictures of shoppers wearing various clothes that could be bought on the spot.” Creepy?

FireChat Takes Home Innovation Award


As is always the case, innovation is front and center at SXSW and at this year’s SXSW Innovation Awards off the grid chat app FireChat took home the Innovation in Connecting People award.

FireChat, developed by San Francisco startup Open Garden in 2012, rose to prominence
last August at the Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada, where cell phone service is scarce. Currently, it has about 5 million users.

Of the win, Open Garden CEO Micha Benoliel said, “We’re ecstatic that FireChat was chosen for such a respected award at this year’s festival. Our mission is to connect people around the world. The recognition from this team of judges and our peers is wonderful and exciting for our team as we continue our efforts.”

Brands Still Spending Boatloads of Money (And Providing Free Food and Drink For All)


While we’re trying to keep things positive here, brands were still king at SXSW this year taking over entire restaurants and erecting full on structures (Bates Motel) in an effort to, well, WSJ’s Mike Shields described it best writing, “It’s about marketers marketing their marketing efforts to other marketers.

National Geographic had an #EscapetheCold structure that would simulate Alaska’s icy conditions to promote the brand’s Life Below Zero. Bausch + Lomb erected a “Lens Lounge.” HBO sponsored pedicabs to promote its Silicon Valley show. And let’s not forget the long-running Fast Company Grill which for the the past five years or so has been providing a branded experience along with educational content and, yes, free food and drink.

There really wasn’t anywhere you could go that wasn’t, in some way, branded or sponsored. Some argue this sullies the pristine origins of the SXSW experience. Others, perhaps tossing their hands up, simply admit that, well, the upside is that everything is free because some brand is sponsoring it. And, with the high cost of attending SXSW, saving money on food and drink is a benefit many appreciate.

Some Things Never Change. Others Do


Perhaps perfectly summarizing the essence of SXSW, collaborative economy expert and Crowd Companies Founder Jeremiah Owyang posted on Facebook the Ten Signs You Were At SXSW in 2015:

1) You lost your voice
2) You have more than 3 wrist bands on in the morning
3) You have more business cards than you remember receiving
4) You got stickers from a startup that’s missing vowels
5) You’re actually proud you tried the McDonald’s new flavor fries
6) You rode the Hootsuite bike bar
7) You were on Meerkat Friday night, but never again.
8) You took more than 4 selfies with your FB friends
10) You’re so hungover you didn’t realize that we skipped nine.

I would add “You hung out at the JW Marriot” because, you know, it was new and, well, we’re all like Lemmings in some ways and that’s what we do.

Apparently, There Are Still SXSW Haters (Who, Luckily, Don’t Hate Everything)


One can’t really summarize the SXSW experience without realizing that the changes which has occurred over the years are not agreeable to all. One such person is Havas Senior VP of Strategy and Innovation Tom Goodwin who wrote, “The festival thrives on the energy and optimism of youth, but suffers for a lack of adult supervision. It’s a cathedral to all things popular that don’t matter, from GrumpyCat to Meerkat. It’s one big meme, that lives and dies as rapidly and pointlessly.”

And hammering marketers for their “irrational exuberance, Goodwin added, “It’s the un-dwindling confidence that iBeacons somehow will be embraced by people or that augmented reality in the shopping center will be fun. I’m not sure these Brooklynites and Palo Altans have ever seen how real people behave and yet we give them a chance to bolster their opinions and feed their ignorance by hanging out only with people like themselves.”

Hmm. Harsh? Well Goodwin isn’t entirely a hater and did come up with something to love about SXSW: diversity of thought. He complains about the sameness of panels at most other events he attends over the course of the year but appreciates the wide-ranging topics and opinions that reveal themselves each year at SXSW.

He notes, “From gender equality to the role of art, trans-humanism, and privacy issues, SXSW each and every year brings together (a few of) the best minds in the world to further our industry.”

Nothing that SXSW has become “a good metaphor for the Internet, it’s too big, too much, but it’s democratic and accessible to all,” he suggests that, just like the internet, SXSW needs a good search engine to make the plethora of growing content more manageable.

As Always, Panels Give Good Content


I attended a few panels. One was hosted by Marketo and held offsite at the Marketo Lounge on 6th Street. The marketing automation company hosted several panels along with parties and a CMO dinner.

On Tuesday morning, Marketo hosted an Irish Breakfast and hosted a panel entitled Ask the CMO. CMOs from Mashable, Bloomberg, Marketo and Equinox were present and discussed issues of importance to CMOs. Chiefly, it was all about keeping the creative spirit alive and not allowing it to get buried beneath today’s proliferation of big data. Additionally, the panel encouraged attendees to insure the brands they represent take on a more human persona which becomes ever more important in an increasingly one to one marketing world.

Deirdre Bigley, CMO of Bloomberg, discussed the importance of gauging the temperature of the social media waters and when or when not to jump in. She cited the February incident during which a couple of Llamas began running around a Phoenix-area retirement community and became a social media phenomenon. The brand ultimately decided to capitalize on the event with this witty tweet:

The Entrepreneurs Lounge


Hosted atop Fogo de Chao every year for eight years running, The Entrepreneurs Lounge is one of the best networking events that occurs during SXSW. A tightly curated list insures that you’ll be able to mix and mingle with the best and the brightest in the marketing, advertising and startup worlds.

Each night from 5PM to 9PM during SXSW, connections are made, business deals are proposed and closed and life long relationships are made. Oh and let’s not forget the endless supply of Brazilian meat that’s passed continuously to guests along with the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. Together, the two made for network dining perfection.

Decoded Fashion Explored the Convergence of Fashion and Technology


The breadth and depth of SXSW content is truly impressive. If you have an interest, it’s well addressed. I attended a series of sessions at the JW Marriot put on by Decoded Fashion, an organization at the convergence of fashion, beauty, retail and technology whose mission is to expose the fashion community to new ideas, demystify technology and foster creative partnerships between tech startups, designers, retailers and media professionals in highly interactive summit formats.

A series of panels addressed fashion hackathons, how to incorporate technology with fashion, wearable technology, the ability of mobile to tie online and physical retail together and how data can drive improvements in retail.

Speakers represented brands including John Lewis, Nieman Marcus, Simon, ASOS, Google, Simon Venture Group, TechCrunch, Gap and others.

Along with the series of panels, Decoded Fashion also included a mentorship hub in which those working in related fields could set up and conduct one on one meetings with industry experts. Each mentor offered startups and emerging designers feedback and advice so that those startups and emerging designers can further hone and improve their offerings.

And, Of Course, GSD&M Threw A Massive Party


Each year, Austin-based ad agency GSD&M takes advantage of the fact that each year their fair city becomes a mecca for ad and marketing types. What better way to pimp yourself than to ply the industry with free food and alcohol?

An estimated 3,500 attended the agency’s party at which attendees could sample Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Pacifico beer and participate in a photo contest sponsored by Southwest. Winners of that contest were awarded front row seats — in the form of actual Southwest airplane seats — to the evening’s musical performances which included surprise guest Grammy winner Gary Clark.

Random Sightings

The exhibit hall was full of activity and plenty to see:


A&E erected an even bigger Bates Motel display this year:


Many of the thoughts and topics discussed in panels during the 5 day Interactive conference were shared visually:


Only at a tech/marketing-related industry party is it totally cool for one person to be partying like crazy and the other to detach and stare at one’s phone:


This guy always makes an appearance at SXSW. This time from the sky:


It’s not SXSW without an Adrian Grenier siting:


And, lastly, this guy got lucky:


Read the rest here:
As You Consider Attending SXSW 2016, Here’s What Was Awesome About SXSW 2015

SXSW Interactive Adds Health And MedTech Expo


Just when you thought SXSW couldn’t possibly get any bigger. Expanding upon the success of past programming on this topic, SXSW Interactive is adding the SX Health and MedTech Expo to the slate of activities for March 2015 in Austin. The brand new JW Marriott Hotel will serve as home for this first-year exhibit space.

Of the new addition, SXSW Interactive Festival Director Hugh Forrest said, “The health and med-tech industry is attracting a ton of attention from startups as well as established tech companies — so I think it is a great fit for what we do. Moreover, Austin is at the epicenter of a lot of this attention, particularly with the addition of the University of Texas Dell Medical School and the many biotech entrepreneurs now setting up shop in Central Texas. For these and various other reasons, we think that spring 2015 is the right time for SXSW Interactive to focus even more resources on this rapidly-changing vertical.”

Scheduled for Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17, the SX Health and MedTech Expo will incorporate the same ideals of SXSW Interactive, promoting creativity, innovation and collaboration, and will feature over 60 exhibiting companies from around the world that are pushing the limits of healthcare technology.

In addition to exhibiting companies, the SX Health and MedTech Expo will feature presentations from thought leaders in the healthcare industry. Other rooms at the JW Marriott will also host more than 40 panels and presentations covering Health and MedTech.

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SXSW Interactive Adds Health And MedTech Expo