The Weekend that was SXSW 2017

Liberty’s own Megan Keesee attended SXSW in Austin – an annual conference that covers the future of everything. It is perhaps the most generalized professional conference in existence today, organized from chaos to coherence by categorizing all events into one of four tracks: Interactive, Film, Music, and Comedy. There’s literally something for everyone. Megan attended the interactive track, focusing on the most exciting tech developments in the connected world.

There was tangible excitement in the air as the streets of Austin filled with hopeful millennials, entrepreneurs, and creatives from all walks of life, conference badges hanging proudly around their necks as they sauntered out of local bars and hip restaurants where events were being held by Silicon Valley’s best.

Megan’s weekend was spent supporting our clients who were speaking or attending; sitting in on panels and sessions providing insight into the top trends, and attending the most anticipated media parties and pop-ups. Here’s what she observed, learned and brought back with her.

Standout Sessions

Keynote speakers like Corey Booker and Joe Biden as well as event subtracks on European government and “Trump’s America” electrified the conference with political undertones and pushed a polito-innovation agenda. Perhaps the most memorable session included Joe Biden’s appearance as part of SXSW’s Connect to End Cancer series, and not just because Megan is in fact his #1 fan. His talk outlined the plans for the Biden Foundation’s Cancer Initiative, calling on attendees to join him in his efforts to cure cancer by 2020. Biden energized the crowd with his passion and optimism, and he even stuck around for a few selfies with fans afterward.

Another session close to the hearts of all our Libertinis was a panel titled“Brexit: How UK/European Tech Companies Are Coping,” which we secured and managed at SXSW. The panel explored the changes that tech companies in Europe have experienced and will continue to experience as the effects of Brexit take shape. The panelists included our friends and clients from Wire, WaveOptics, Blis and Jobbatical, who candidly shared anecdotes on how they are  managing the changes brought on by an evolving political landscape and how they plan to face the challenges that lie ahead. The session brought perspective from a diverse group of companies and leaders. Perhaps we’re a bit biased, but this session had to be one of our favorites because of the honesty amidst uncertainty that was shared by panelists.

Pop Ups and Panels

In addition to the main event, one thing that makes SXSW unique to the conference grind is the volume of pop ups and “house parties” hosted by brands on the side. During the week of the festival, most of the venues downtown Austin are completely booked for these side events, and there’s no lack of daytime or evening activities. Megan was able to chat with  Tim Ferriss, who turned  up at the SXSW bookstore to sign copies of his latest work Tools of Titans and also stumbled upon a pop-up promoting one of her all-time favorite books turned television show, American Gods.

In true PR fashion, Megan spent quality time talking to journalists at the TechCrunch Day Party, complete with musical appearances from Kishi Bashi and Madame Gandhi. She made sure not to miss out on good ole Texas bbq and Tex-Mex which she shared with our attending clients. She saved up enough conference momentum on her last night in town to make it to the annual and ever-notorious #MashBash party hosted by the editors at Mashable to celebrate the first weekend of SXSW. Who says you can’t work and play at the same time?

Looking Forward

In the heart of Austin, an oasis of modern thinking in the middle of traditional Texas, SXSW dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. The conference features a variety of tracks that allow attendees to explore the realm of unfolding possibilities in the worlds of entertainment, culture and technology.

In the last decade SXSW has built a reputation for highlighting the technology and trends that  shape industries, empower people and enable new possibilities. This year, that meant focusing on the geopolitical changes taking place internationally, as the technology of politics and politics of technology took center stage. The biggest takeaway from individual sessions was that the tech community has the power to influence public debate and shape our future.
The larger takeaway, though, in a conference that has become a behemoth of innovation and trade events, is how brands can cut through the noise to make that impact. Those that attended SXSW certainly had the opportunity to practice.

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