Why Agencies Really Go to SXSW

This story is part of Digiday’s coverage of the SXSW Interactive Festival. 

Digiday invited an agency executive to share candid thoughts on why SXSW has become so popular with agencies. In coming weeks, this person will share more candid thoughts on the industry. Follow the exec on Twitter @agencyexecx.

Enjoy the barbecue while you can. This will be the last SXSW that agency folk make a big deal of. When you look the reasons that agencies — and for this piece, let’s say big advertising agency people rather than boutique production shops — go to Austin, it becomes clear that it’s hard for anyone to justify the trip anymore.

Of course, there will be the odd thing here and there as some desperate CEO tries to prove that his (for it is never a her) agency “gets digital.” There is just no earthly good reason why a CFO would spend money sending so many people to Austin. Half of the people you are paying for are going because they want a new job. Well done, you just made it a bajillion times easier for them to do that. The half that want to stay at your agency are so lost already that the thought of them returning with anything of value from three days of waiting in line for an hour to see something like another disastrous keynote by Biz Stone or that stone-like object from Qualcomm is laughable. If they were serious about digital, they would have already seen all the keynotes they need to see online, or they would have left your agency.

There’s a theme here. Perhaps you can see it?

Honestly, I think you’ll be able to count the stories on one hand where a bona fide agency bigwig returns from Austin next Monday with a genuine positive story to tell. Well, a story to tell that doesn’t make you chuckle with embarrassment for him.

People say SXSW is the new Cannes. Maybe it is in terms of agency execs going somewhere nice and warm for a few days to drink and line up new gigs. There is one big difference. If the advertising people didn’t go to Cannes, there is no Cannes. If the advertising people don’t go to Austin, you know what will happen? Nothing. The real business of SXSW — and don’t forget that it is interactive, music and film — has nothing to do with Madison Avenue, despite the desperate attempts by agencies and brands to make it about them.

The real part of interactive is real nerds doing real things, and they couldn’t care less about your stupid agency. They’ll be nice, take a few meetings, but, really, you’re so irrelevant to them. They need funding, the exact thing you don’t have. Going there for music is like saying to your CFO, “I’m taking the creative department to Coachella for three days — see You Next Tuesday.” And the film, well, the film, let’s be honest, it’s kinda crappy. All the theaters are full or in the middle of nowhere, and if you really want to see indie movies so that you can steal some cool graphics or lighting effect, they will all be on IFC a few weeks later.

That said, see you at the Barbarian Party.

Image via Shutterstock