September 28, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions



Bloat: “excessively expand; to increase excessively, or to make something do this.” Definition #2, from inside MS Word.

I haven’t ever been to South by Southwest (SXSW), but it always seemed like it would be a lot of fun. But there’s never been a deeply compelling business reason for CustomScoop to send me. Sure, there’s networking–but that applies to many other conferences too–conferences at which I’d be far more apt to meet potential clients.

And I think SXSW might have hit the definition of bloat in 2010. I’ve seen more posts this year about how people just don’t think there’s a business case for going. Jeremy Pepper perfectly described what has always been my gut feel about SXSW–it’s an employer-funded chance to party.

Gini Dietrich states that she has a business to run, and she can get as much information as she wants to glean from the event by reading blog posts and Twitter. This presents another interesting issue that I know others have written before: is Twitter killing the conference model? If you can let other people pay to go and just monitor their tweets for the good bits, why would you bear the brunt of the expense, especially if you can stay put and actually earn money by doing client work?

And, finally one of the most damaging posts yet that I’ve seen: Jolie O’Dell writes in a post titled “Why SXSW Sucks”:

[…] This year, I have almost had a wonderful time meeting up with my friends but have spent most of my time trying to avoid being harassed, maligned, groped, ogled and threatened by the masses of people – I’m hearing 40% more than last year – who are holding badges. This show isn’t fun, and I won’t be coming back. […]


I can assure you this isn’t sour grapes. I’m not wild about crowds, and I prefer smaller venues where it’s easier to interact with people. I’ve also gotten to an age (40) when I need my sleep or I get darn cranky, so the party aspect holds absolutely zero appeal to me. But I’ve also always been somewhat suspicious of any conference that has people talking about what *fun* it was, rather than how much they learned. It’s not that you can’t have fun and learn, but usually if fun is top of mind, there was more partying than learning happening.

Austin is a great town, and SXSW has been a tremendous place from which to launch many of the tools we now take for granted. But I think the SXSW conference itself has a bit of PR to do if it hopes to reclaim the value people once saw in it.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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    Kami Huyse

    More than any other conference I attend, this one is what you make of it.

    Like you, I really have no interest in staying out all night partying at a conference. I did "show my face" at the parties and met up with old friends as well as potential clients. Believe me, deals are made (and I suspect lost) at this conference.

    I agree that this conference is getting too big. I heard there were 12,000 registrants and that SxSWi outpaced the film and music festivals this year. And I felt it. There were many people that I would have liked to see but whom I wasn't able this year. Too many parties and people made it impossible.

    I am still digesting my thinking on this and will have a post up later, but thanks for your thoughts as I will be incorporating them into my rehash.

    Gini Dietrich

    It's so funny you say this, Jen! I was just talking to a friend of mine about how we think sponsorships are going to segment SxSW as early as next year. For instance, GM was a big sponsor this year, which means no one from Ford (or their agencies) attended the conference. So what happens if Pepsi or McDonald's then become big sponsors? They push out even more people. You're right…they need to do some PR to gain business leaders.

    I definitely don't want to sound like I'm bitter because I'm not there this year. I just think this is like going to a football game vs. watching it on TV. You see A LOT more when you watch it on TV…and that's what I'm gleaning from SxSW this year.

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