For tech companies, South By Southwest Interactive provides the chance to communicate in a way that just can’t be done with a phone call, email or text.
Yes, at South By Southwest, people talk to each other in person — no electronics necessary.
Once again this year, thousands of techies, entrepreneurs and other business leaders flocked to Austin, Texas, for a five-day convention that’s part Silicon Valley and part spring break. For two Missouri companies, South by Southwest, or SXSW, offers an enormous chance to network with larger companies, create business connections and grow their own businesses.
Influence and Co., a Columbia-based content marketing firm, sent three people to the conference, which started Friday and ends today. Alyssa Brown oversees Influence & Co.’s sales team. She said that a large part of her job at SXSW is to check in with clients, some of whom fly in for only one day of meetings.
“We do a lot of our sales through face-to-face conferences, because our product and the service we offer is so customizable to people,” Brown said. “It’s really hard for us to send a cool email out to saying, ‘Hey, you need content marketing.’ So once people know who we are, know what we do and get to trust and love the members of our team, it’s easier for people to know when to work with us.”
SXSW also features separate festivals focused on education, film and music over two weeks in March. But the biggest draw is SXSW Interactive, which last year attracted close to 33,000 participants. Tickets for the event aren’t cheap, ranging from $825 to $1,295.
Brown said she thinks the atmosphere of SXSW lends itself to fostering good business relationships between people outside of the office.
“You’re really there because it gets people out of their element where they have a jam-packed day and they can’t focus on the things they want to do or don’t have time to go grab coffee or grab a drink with someone,” Brown said. “When they’re out, in a nice place, a lot more of that relationship business can be done.”
Last July, Franco Puetz and Mallory Van Waarde founded Magnifyre, a Columbia-based startup that works to help companies magnify their online presence. Both co-founders attended SXSW this year.
As a startup with a small staff, Magnifyre’s primary goal in attending the conference was to make new connections, Van Waarde said.
“The great thing about South By Southwest is that you can get all the same people who work in the same industry in one place,” she said in a phone interview from Austin. “We’ve also been to events like one hosted by Facebook, where you get to meet and connect with people that work at Facebook.”
Puetz said that, for the most part, everybody is there to help everybody. At the Facebook event, he made an important connection with someone in the company’s adverting division.
“It’s a group of people, if you’re networking the right way, you’re trying to find ways to help people,” Puetz said. “They might be more familiar with other people, but everyone is there to chat and hang out.”
More than anything, that seems to be the draw of SXSW. Despite the multitude of tech companies represented at the event, it’s hard to beat old-fashioned, in-person communication to grow a business.
“The big perk for us is that we finally have the chance to talk to people in person that we’ve talked to online several times,” Van Waarde said. “If somebody is hiring you as an extension of their marketing team to build their website, you want to work with people that they like.”