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Published Veröffentlicht 21/03/2024

On SXSW 2024: The Good, The Bad and The Very Long Lines 

SXSW is a veritable playground of creativity, undiscovered brands, fresh ideas and inspirational speaker sessions – and this year was no different.  

For PR and marketing pros like us, SXSW 2024 was an opportunity to trend spot, check out innovative brands, experience unexpected activations, and to mix, mingle and be inspired by creatives across industries. That’s why we were on the ground to capture it all. While we could write a book on what we saw, learned and did (or purposefully avoided), we’ve distilled our takeaways down to a few of the most important – spotted from the streets of Austin:  

The lines. The very, very long lines – Likely due to the collision of spring break for many school districts plus this year’s event, the lines to get into everything from brand activations like The Delta Lounge, to simply grabbing a coffee at Starbucks, felt never-ending. While some were worth it, with payoffs like great swag or fabulous free food and drinks, many lines were not. TLDR; for the activations you really want to get into, queue up early – 15-30 minutes or more – to not only get in, but to reap the benefits of getting in. Meaning, to get whatever’s being given out, so you aren’t stuck in yet another line once you enter, or worse, leaving emptyhanded because the goods (or seats – or both) have run out.  

Brand Activations that Got it Right – We toured all the brand houses – both official and unofficial SXSW activations – so you didn’t have to. Here are a few of our favorites, in no particular order:  

  • The Women’s Equality Lounge – Executed to perfection by The Female Quotient, this year’s Women’s Equality Lounge was a short walk outside of the chaos of center city Austin to the Waller Creek Boathouse, where “All are welcome. No exceptions. No badge required.” The venue served free and delicious food and drinks against a backdrop of female equality, which felt even more powerful given March is Women’s History Month. Thought-provoking panels brought the importance of closing the gender gap across all categories to the forefront. Allison’s Global Partner + President of Global Consumer Group Lisa Rosenberg moderated a discussion on cultural equity in women’s sports with a star-powered mix of panelists, including Christy Keswick, co-founder and president, Good Sports Inc.; Gabrielle Reece, athlete, podcast host and founder, Laird Superfood, Laird Apparel and XPT; Kate Veronneau, director of Women’s Strategy, Zwift; and Li Li Leung, president and CEO, USA Gymnastics.
  • The House of Robb – For an elevated experience with no lines, you had to look no further than The House of Robb. This activation was also slightly outside city center, which made it feel like a well-kept secret, and it offered some of the most premium experiences you could find at the festival. The immersive pop-up convened the very best under one roof with programming that highlighted luxury across industries, from the finest in culinary and spirits to fashion and jewelry, all exclusively crafted by Robb Report editors.  
  • The Sharpie x PaperMate Studio – This brand activation featured a series of interactive experiences that allowed guests to flex their creative muscles and experience new products. Upon entry guests were encouraged to try out new markers on the giant coloring wall. Past the wall, there were fun and instagrammable moments like giant swings, a mural of wings and more. Some of the best activities included a design-your-own-cocktail station, an interactive design-your-own swag station and more. The experience was capped off with a full bar, tacos and a chill vibe that made this a must-stop activation. 
  • The LaCroix House – This house was a masterclass in bringing a brand to life in an interactive and highly shareable way. The LaCroix-themed space was filled with bright colors from floor to ceiling and gave attendees the chance to snap photos, snag exclusive swag and enjoy fun drinks. Overall, the activation evoked a playful vibe that brought the brand personality to life.  

To Badge or Not to Badge, That is the Question – This year, there were countless IYKYK events that you could sign up for simply by using your name and contact info, so there wasn’t a huge need to buy an official platinum badge. Lesson here was unless you plan to attend multiple conference speaking sessions, you don’t need a badge. And while there were some fantastic panels, it was also totally worthwhile to go badgeless and enjoy a variety of fantastic activations (for example, all our favorites listed above as activations that got it right) and “unofficial” events – and eat and drink for free – all weekend long. However, for most of these events, there was either a slightly longer wait or an extra step of registering online ahead of time. The unofficial SXSW culture is where you’ll find “undiscovered” brands, artists and more.  

Meet Creative People in a Creative City – Networking is on everyone’s mind. And perhaps because much of the kickoff activity takes place over a weekend, there is a more relaxed nature to it all. It feels appropriate to walk around the city, pop in and out of events, enjoy a drink, and kick up a conversation with someone new. And it can – and should – all be done in jeans and sneakers rather than a suit and tie. The underlying creative “grit” of Austin translates to a frenetic dose of energy that makes SXSW a unique and must-attend experience that should be added to your list to check out.  

Featured Panels & Sports Track From the Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, to Issa Rae and Stephen A. Smith, there were panels and events featuring big celebrities and sports personalities, but most were tough to score entry. Many of these sessions had very, very long entry lines or required some luck to use a SXXPress Pass to jump the line (the passes are in limited quantity for each session and only distributed to badge-holders on a first-come, first-serve basis). The SXSW sports track was as robust as ever, with a full first weekend takeover at the Four Seasons featuring panels, events and happy hours dedicated to the business of sport and the on- and off-field game. One of the happy hours, a partnership between Stagwell and Sportico, celebrated the SXSW Sports track and the launch of SPORT BEACH 2024, which will return to the beaches of Cannes in June to celebrate the intersection of sport, culture and industry with some of the top names in the game. 

Like what you read? Follow along with Allison on LinkedIn, Instagram and X for our takeaways on Expo West 2024, what’s to come at Cannes, and more.  

Cheryl Weissman is an executive vice president in Allison’s Consumer Brands practice, where she leads the food & beverage specialty.  

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