In Any Event season 2 is in full swing. Joining Rachel Moore (Director of Content and Communications at Hubilo) and Kathleen Timbol-Abdeen (Field Sales Manager, Hubilo) is Hugh Forrest, the Co-President and Chief Programming Officer of SXSW. In this exciting discussion with our hosts, he shares the origin of SXSW, how the brand has evolved, and his future plans for the brand, as well as how marketers can maximize their chances of success in the industry.
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The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival has been held every March since 1987 in Austin, Texas. It is considered one of the most important gatherings worldwide related to music, film, and interactivity. Hugh Forrest is the Chief Programming Officer of the SXSW Interactive Festival. This event brings together over 30,000 digital creatives from the United States and the rest of the world. It has become one of the leading showcases worldwide for the latest tendencies in new technologies, innovation, and entrepreneurship. For five days at SXSW, these professionals find inspiration through a program that includes debates, presentations, brainstorming, networking, and entertainment.
Community is the free form of advertising, making a breakthrough with marketers considering it the most effective way to boost awareness. In fact, McKinsey believes the community is the "big idea" of the decade.
Hugh backs this up as he shares SXSW's secret. He says, "Word-of-mouth marketing has been a big part of our growth. The key part is to encourage your community to advocate for you. People only talk about the things that they can relate to. At SXSW, the community is the hero that shares speaker proposals and topic ideas. At the same time, they are the evaluators who assess these ideas, vote for them, and create the buzz."
Research shows that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends. Effective community-based marketing can offer long-term benefits for event marketers, creating a hub for engaged groups that, in turn, translate to loyal customers and advocates.
It's no secret anymore: economic downturn is the critical global challenge facing events. However, the key to ensuring success is staying creative, planning diligently, and brainstorming ideas that keep the audience engaged.
According to Hugh, events have a great potential to pivot through economic downtimes. If the past is any indicator, marketers need to dig deep into their audience's experience and expectations. By keeping up with “the new normal’s” version of events, which combines in-person and virtual alternatives, marketers can continue to meet their customers, engage their communities, and achieve the desired results.
Hugh recalls how SXSW began in 1987 as an event focused on music. However, with time and changing audience demand, it evolved to include health and MedTech, cannabis, government, and more, without ever losing its touch with the musical side of it.
"Content and willingness to adapt to the audience's demand kept us relevant for over 35 years,” says Hugh. “If we'd stayed only as a music event, we would not have survived or even grown to the extent we have. As much as we have changed and pivoted over that 35+ years, the North Star hasn't particularly changed. That is about focusing on very, very creative people.”
Content has always been the "king" and will always be. Using content effectively is critical for an event's success. For the audience to take an interest in your event and translate your efforts into results, it is essential to incorporate content that "speaks" to them. It must add value to their experience and should be valuable even post-event.
Hugh shares, "Events are the new ‘church’ that we have. They are a way for people to experience community, interact face to face, meet new people, and feel inspired. That's powerful."
If there's anything the COVID lockdown has taught us, it’s that events help us stay connected, regardless if you can or cannot meet in person.
As Hugh shares his plans, he says, "Despite some portion of our 2023 content available online to the streaming community, it won't be as much as we had in 2022 and definitely not as much as 2021. We are looking forward to more hybrid events."
Indeed, the future of SXSW is as exciting as ever. With more planning on the hybrid events side, they will evolve to include innovation at the center of the stage.
As for Hugh’s advice for marketers? He believes in allowing creative minds to take the front seat and letting experimentation lead you to success. The idea is to continue testing and evolving to suit the audience's needs.
Events are here to stay, leading the way for marketers to increase brand awareness, create demand around their products and services, and build a strong community. Nearing the end of the current year, it’s interesting to see how marketers level up their game in 2023.
While we had a lot to learn from Hugh, we would love to hear more about the tactics discussed over the conference tables. And if you need inspiration, check out the full scoop by visiting In Any Event with Hugh Forrest.
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