Day 3 Recap: SXSW is a marathon that feels like a sprint

Madison Seely reflects on her last day of SXSW 2017.

I feel like I might’ve stretched myself a little thin today. That being said, I have zero regrets.

Guilt-ridden over panels I might be missing, I rushed to get ready after sleeping in a little later than planned. I also packed up my belongings and made my way out into the festival with everything in tow, as I had to check out of my Airbnb and into the hotel I booked when I extended my trip. Therefore, I was the irritating person shoving her bags in your face as I squeezed into your aisle to get a good view of the next panel. This is exactly what happened at my first panel of the day: The Elephant on Madison Avenue.

I’m well-acquainted with this topic and some of the speakers, as the name derives from an industry survey conducted by our friends at the 3 Percent Conference. The data in the study, and the subject of the panel, examined the shocking and disappointing disparity between men and women in the advertising industry. Women, especially women of color, older women, and new moms, still encounter a biased amount of challenges in the workplace that the advertising industry must tackle. The panel eventually summed up their frustration over these biases in several ways, one of which was mentioning that gender and racial diversity are proven to be good for business – so agencies no longer have an excuse for homogenous leadership and creative teams. Lisen Stromberg still strongly believes the biggest issue for women is the “I belong” aspect, the sense of feeling wanted in the industry, and until agencies can tackle that we’ve still got a ways to go. To read the Elephant on Madison Avenue survey you can click here.

From this panel I was able to take advantage of one of the newer features of this year’s festival, which is second-tier admittance to film screenings for Interactive Badge holders! Last year films were strictly limited to those with Film Badges, but with a mouth-watering array of documentaries and narrative features now available I couldn’t resist. The film I was able to catch a bit of was called Pornocracy, a documentary feature that examined the causes of the crash of the adult film industry in 2006-2008. With new web distributions available for free streaming, filmmakers in the industry were suddenly left with no credit for their work, artistic or monetary. This is a common phenomenon in the age of the internet, especially for filmmakers and music artists, so it was fascinating to see how this particular industry suffered and what its suffering could be traced back to.

From the film screening I dipped into the SXSW trade show to wander around all the emerging technology on display. This is probably one of my top recs for festival newcomers who want something that only SXSW has to offer. The convention center sets aside its expo halls and devotes days to displaying tech from around the world across all kinds of industries. From new healthcare solutions to a robot that is guaranteed to land a flipped a water bottle, there’s something for everyone.

From the expo I stopped by the Hilton where the Interactive Innovation Finalists were on display. Included among these was DDB Sydney, whose #comeonin campaign for the Sydney Opera House was one of the finalist contenders! In addition to checking out their booth I wandered around to check out the competition, and DDB was definitely in good company. One of my favorites aside from Sydney was new wearable tech in the form of flash tattoos! I thought that was only for sci-fi, but I guess I was wrong. Welcome to 2017!

After that I bopped around to the Fast Company Grill to relax on the patio and listen to a brief conversation around the future of connected cities and self-driving cars. The conversation, between Chuck Salter (Fast Company) and Jessica Robinson (Ford), was illuminating in that it seems like the future of automated driving and cities is closer than we think!

The next panel I went to was entitled Advertising For Good, which held a lot of promise, but with a festival as massive as SXSW sometimes there are those panels that may disappoint – as was the case here. I made sure to arrive well ahead of time to grab a seat for the panel, but what I thought would be a candid hour-long conversation around best practices for agencies and the value of social good campaigns for the industry was twenty minutes of one agency presenting a couple case studies of their own work, along with a script they read from in-between. At the end of twenty minutes they concluded their session and didn’t take any questions, which left the (quite packed) room feeling a little confused. Such is SXSW, though: not everything will live up to expectations; the good news, however, is for every small disappointment there’s something phenomenal around the corner.

Speaking of which, the highlight of the day was definitely the evening when I, along with Alexander and Cheryl from DDB New York, got to watch DDB Chicago’s Myra Nussbaum own the stage during an amazing panel at a private YouTube event. She joined reps from Google, R/GA, and the New York Times in an illuminating conversation around how clients and agencies can push for innovation in a world increasingly filled with risk. Myra talked about the colorless Skittles campaign for Pride in which Skittles donated their rainbow to Pride efforts – a great example of a large brand doing more than “just showing up” for a cause but really adding a dimension to the conversation. Jess Greenwood of R/GA mentioned that the stakes of a brand playing it safe are now higher than not saying anything at all, to which Myra suggested that the best way to help a client navigate risky territory is to find their comfort place and push into that. That’s how riskier and yet more rewarding product innovation happens – and how a brand can find its true value in a larger conversation. Fantastic job, Myra!

From there I split from the DDB NY crew who went to pop by the Mashable House ‘Mash Bash.’ They enjoyed a night of dancing and product previews (and in Cheryl’s case, even a run-in with Pete Cashmore himself), and I went to the film screening I’d been looking forward to since before the festival started: The Disaster Artist. If you aren’t familiar with Tommy Wiseau’s accidental masterpiece of awful cinema The Room, please do yourself a favor and go to your local midnight screening, which if you’re NYC- based is at Sunshine Cinemas the first Saturday of every month. James and Dave Franco’s The Disaster Artist is the film adaptation of the book of the same name by The Room star Greg Sistero. The lore behind this cult classic is deep and hard to explain, so I’ll just recommend it as required viewing for now. Needless to say, as a mega-fan of The Room, I had a blast.

I’m glad I crammed all of this into the day, since this is my last day of the festival. I ship off to NYC tomorrow, into apparently a blizzard, so needless to say I am already missing Austin. To those still there – enjoy the last few days, they go by in the blink of an eye!

Until next year, SXSW.

Madison Seely Corporate Communications Associate DDB North America