The Information Hangover: SXSW is over, now what?

"We are not burdened by the reality of today, but rather made free by the hope of tomorrow."

Photo from SXSW

The meat sweats have passed, your body clock is back to normal, and you never, ever, want to line up for anything again. Congrats, you survived SXSW. Although, I can't claim the same stamina as the true survivors who attended the full week. With the expanded schedule, five days became enough for me. It was that overstay of Vegas feeling, and I was excited to put it all into practice back home.

As I sat in the Austin airport, the perceived distance provided perspective, I thought about my week, and what was next for me, and for all of us. Early on, I learned this: SXSW is all talk, it's a collection of thought leaders, marketers, filmmakers, musicians and all we do is talk. But the real work happens as we leave this freebie-fueled think tank, and figure how to apply it to the next year of our lives and beyond. So here are a few ways we can be better marketers the rest of the year, and take more away from SXSW than $65 hoodies and wristbands that are impossible to remove.

2017 SXSW Vice President Joe Biden (Photo by Mindy Best / Getty Images) 

Come looking for questions, not answers. SXSW becomes a town of experts, but their point of view should be used directionally, and at times with skepticism. What sets good marketers apart is the brave ability to change, rattle and disrupt. And that doesn't come from believing everything we hear, it comes from questioning it. So approach each session, each conversation with that mindset, and find the value in questions. And continue to do that throughout the year. They will lead you to a much more interesting place than an answer will.

Read your notes and reflect. People take furious session notes. Some written, some electronically. But a large majority probably never look at those notes again. They are archived, and not really put into daily practice. More so, people write down things they already know, further discouraging them from reading again. We confuse motion with progress, and for those notes to work, we need to revisit and put into action. They can't be the vacation pictures we never look at again. The airport is a good time to reflect on those notes, while they are fresh and can be expanded upon. Force yourself back to better move forward.

Teach others what you know. Not every session is great, but there are a few salient points that can be cherry-picked from most. At my agency, those of us who attend SXSW come back and share our insights with the rest of the agency. By doing this, you bring that thinking and inspiration to others who were not in attendance, but also forces you dust off your notes, and investigate all that you learned. The process to remember and relate key points of the week will help them stick in your head throughout the year.

2017 SXSW Interactive (Photo by David Rackley)

Think forward. What I love most about SXSW is we are all thinking about the future. We are not burdened by the reality of today, but rather made free by the hope of tomorrow. Many times in our real work lives, we are so focused on the deadline of now, that the prospect of tomorrow gets lost. But this week proves otherwise. It's important that once reality sets back in, we continue to be futurists and not forget about tomorrow because we are weighed down by the tasks of today.

Look everywhere for inspiration. The intersection of film/music/interactive reflects the shift in our culture of marketing and entertainment. As the conferences are no longer as siloed as in the past, there are chances to look outside our industry for answers. Whether you are music, film or interactive, we all want the same things: To sell something we love, to get the attention of an audience and to move our craft forward. So hit those "softball" sessions that abstract from the granular force of marketing and deal with those three points. I learned more in the Ernest Cline (Ready Player One) session than the Elon Musk one. I got a better sense of storytelling watching Pandora's Questlove podcast with a beer in my hand than listening to a Facebook session on that very topic. So continue to look beyond your own industry's borders for inspiration after you leave SXSW, and watch the magic happen.

Let the countdown begin next year. But while doing so, keep that SXSW spirit alive within everything you do. Question, reach further and don't get content with whatever you are doing. Let's make sure the things we do as marketers today have a big impact on next year's conference, and as an industry, we can continue to collectively push us all toward greater things. 


By J Barbush is VP / Creative Director, Social Media at ad agency RPA.