SXSW 2019: First impressions from our man in Austin

Austin is a city of beige buildings and brown coloured brick, but the South by Southwest festival is a celebration of colour and creativity unlike any other. Anthemites Sarah Geel and Vincent Heeringa have thrown themselves into the fray of queues, speakers and bad coffee to find out what’s new in the world of marketing and media.

Here’s their first five impressions from 24 hours on the ground:

Crossovers and collision

For 10 days SXSW is an epicentre of creativity, culture and talent – a crossover of disciplines and sectors that don’t normally collide. That’s why it attracts 70,000 attendees from around the globe. We are relishing getting out of our comfort zones and being surprised and delighted by the eclectic mix: from the launch of a TV show, to panel sessions on AI and empathy at work, to an interview with the Michael Pollen (the food guy) on psychedelic drugs. There really is something for everyone.

High-calibre talent

Most conferences can boast a few notable names, but a single day at SXSW could be an entire conference with high profile politicians, business leaders, academics, Hollywood stars, and a street full of activations that transport you to another world. At what event would you see Charlize Theron, Malcolm Gladwell, Brené Brown and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? And that was just Saturday.

Festival friends

Despite the deluge of delegates into one city block, the streets feel friendly and safe. Everyone’s here for the same thing: learning, meeting, and being inspired. It helps that the tech support is great: free Wi-Fi wherever you go, a great app that tells you exactly what you need, plus express options to skip queues (got to be fast to get those!) and a handy capacity graphic that tells you when the rooms are getting full. Outside the event, the Austin infrastructure is challenged – we’re lucky in New Zealand to have such great roads – which makes riding the vast dumps of Limes, Jumps, Birds and Lyft scooters quite exciting. On the plus side the Ubers are plentiful and fast.

Get outside

It’s hard to drag yourself away from the rich smorgasbord of speaking gigs during the conference, but it’s worth the effort spending an afternoon on Rainey Street experiencing the activations from global brands like Sony, Twitter, Bose, Amazon Prime and more (the free beer and turkey legs aren’t bad either). The budgets are impressive – for the launch of Good Omens, Amazon took out half an acre of inner-city land to create a mock heaven and hell, complete with puppies. Go figure.

Meet your locals

Why does it take going overseas to appreciate home? There’s about 30 Kiwis here and we’ve been What’s-Apping a storm, sharing tips and making introductions. There may have been some BBQs (a big thing here in Austin) and a beer or three after-hours. Don’t tell mum.

Yes, it’s true the SXSW queues are as big as everyone says they are, and the US coffee is exceptionally, profoundly and offensively bad. But after two days, we’re inspired, knackered and ready to do it again.

  • To read more of Anthem’s experiences at SXSW click here.

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