The Lessons & Takeaways of SXSW 2018

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive and Music on behalf of our client, Visit Finland, in addition to speaking on a panel discussion for Zapwater at The Refinery. As a SXSW novice, I wasn’t prepared for the experience (further proven by my choice of shoes for the weekend…heels). Not ideal with all of the walking that’s required!

For those who aren’t familiar and/or who haven’t attended in the past, SXSW is an adrenaline-inducing, overstimulated experience with a jam-packed schedule of events, music performances, film screenings, brand activations, speakers and parties. Sure, I’ve attended other conferences/festivals before. But SXSW? It’s like the Super Bowl, and in many ways, brands treat it as such – investing hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars to get noticed. As a PR professional, I was overwhelmed by the amount of creativity (and clutter) of the experience. I couldn’t stop taking notes, photos or videos; there were brilliant marketing and digital ideas brimming on every street corner.

The panel discussion was a phenomenal experience. The topic was all about branding, and how to brand yourself and your company to take things to the next level. I was joined on stage by Jordan Jones of Packed Party, Megan Runser of Kendra Scott, Chelsea of @OhhhChelsea and Hayley Swindell of The Refinery. The one-hour discussion flew by faster than I anticipated, and I learned a lot from the other women. We started by giving the audience our backgrounds and experience, and then jumped right into the questions, such as:

1. Tell us about the moment you knew when it was time to begin scaling or expanding your time within your current role or career?

2. How do you establish relationships with people and brands you’d like to be connected with? Is there a method to the long-game connections you wish to establish?

3. How do you communicate your brand to clients vs. to your team? Is it the same or is it different? Why or why not?

4. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone you consider a mentor in your career? What is the greatest lesson this person has taught you?

5. Self-care is a trending topic nowadays, but also vital maintaining your health, managing stress, and making time for yourself. What are some ways in which practice taking care of yourself in the busy seasons?

6. In what ways do you use your weaknesses in business to promote growth?

While the five of us work in different industries, we quickly realized we’re a lot more alike than different. In fact, we carry the same stress and burdens in business. We struggle to find solutions for self-care, don’t sleep well at night because we’re trying to think of the next big idea, and we constantly feel/worry we’re failing our teams as managers. My biggest takeaway from the panel? Branding is all about consistency, but also requires flexibility to evolve and grow.

SXSW 2018

For the festival itself, my favorite activation? HBO’s Westworld Town. In anticipation of Westworld’s second season, HBO built an entire theme park about the show about an hour away from the festival. For two days, guests were able to immerse themselves on similar set locations from the show, along with enjoying Western-inspired food and drink. Reservations sold out nearly immediately. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to attend, but I felt like I experienced it anyway with all of the photos and videos on social media.


While most companies want a piece of the SXSW pie, there aren’t enough slices to go around. I visited countless events, parties and activations, and there were just as many “misses” as “wins.” Simply showing up with an idea isn’t enough. Keep in mind - HBO had to build an entire TOWN an hour away from the event to get noticed! Relevant ideas with measurable goals to match, are the only real way to win the SXSW game.

BlogMeghan McAllister