South by Southwest (SXSW) season is officially upon us, and we are gearing up to ensure our clients have their most successful and stress-free festival events yet. This is our sixteenth (!!) SXSW, and every year we are approached for advice on how to plan a program during the busiest week in Austin. While there is no secret formula, we have definitely learned a few things over the years and are here to share seven essential things you must consider if you are planning a SXSW event.

1. PLAN AHEAD OR PLAN TO MISS OUT

SXSW has only grown in scope and popularity each year, and by now seasoned planners know to plan early for their festival event, or they risk losing out on prime location and partners. Venues are so in demand for this season that many of them start booking nearly a year in advance, so start your scouting early!

2. CONSIDER YOUR PURPOSE

Planning an event during SXSW is no easy feat, and comes at a premium price and additional complications. Before you dive in, ask yourself why you are planning an event during the festival. If you are hoping to launch a new business, you are better off rescheduling; there is so much else going on that you will not necessarily get the press you are hoping for.

3. FUNCTION > FASHION

While you definitely want to look for a venue that is unique, in a prime location, and within budget, many planners are tempted to sacrifice functionality for these other qualities. If you book a space that is not typically an event venue, make sure it is up to permitting code. Truly consider the space’s capacity, floorplan, and technical specs to ensure you will not have to make sacrifices down the line.

4. MAKE IT OFFICIAL

When you host an event during SXSW Interactive, you have the choice of whether or not to make it “official”. Official events are advertised in SXSW collateral, which is a huge incentive for many hosts. The publicity is key, but comes with some additional restrictions and requirements.

5. ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE

During SXSW, attendees have a surplus of events to choose from. You need to find unique ways to maintain your audience and entice them to stay at your event past sampling your free food and drink. This is the time to engineer bold activations, amplify your design, and create a flawless guest experience; otherwise, you will lose your attendees and miss out on substantial ROI.

Curious what we mean? Check out when we helped our client with the concept of transforming a pub crawler into the Hootsuite owl. We love how the innovative design quite literally spread brand awareness across the city while offering riders an opportunity to speak one-on-one with a Hootsuite representative and enjoy some free refreshments.

6. PREPARE YOUR STAFF

Staffing your event can prove to be one of the most challenging aspects of hosting during SXSW. The city is packed, and many would rather attend the festival than work it. If you are relying on volunteers, have a backup plan in place in case your staffers run late or do not show up. When staff is onsite, make sure to prep them for the wide range of questions they may get – not only about your event, but the surrounding neighborhood and nearby SXSW activations.

7. HIRE AN AGENCY

Of course, when in doubt (especially if you are not from Austin), we recommend you to hire an expert. No one knows the city or the festival better than a local. If you are interested in getting a head start on your SXSW 2020 event, let us know, and we would be happy to show you the ropes.