Tuesday, April 06, 2010

7 ways to make an impact at an event like SXSW

It has been a long time since I did a good ole' fashioned "Look how smart I am" blog post so I figured this was as good as time as any. Regular readers to this here blog know that a few weeks ago I spent a week in Austin, TX for SXSW Interactive but not many people know what I actually did there. Hopefully if you attended the event you know since this post is sort of a step by step explanation of how I got the word of Thoora.com out to the people attending the conference but for those not there I have put together this 7 ways to make an impact at a conference. This won't work for everything but hopefully this gets you thinking a little differently towards how to promote a brand at an event.

#1 Custom Thoora Newspapers - Every great shopping mall has a large anchor store like a Macy's or whatever and developing a plan to stunt an event is no different. You need something that is large and interesting followed by a lot of little things that connect people's minds back to your big thing. Our big endeavor this year was creating fully customized newspapers based on the top ten stories of the day (gathered from Thoora.com) including a full page of original comic strips each day as well as an ad for the speaking panel I hosted (see #5). When I say these were custom I mean it. Every evening (starting around 2am) we created a completely new paper that got printed in the morning so they could be distributed that same day/evening...and by delivered I mean our team slid them under the doors of every hotel (in the sxsw area) we could before getting kicked out and told not to come back. Yes at last count we were warned by 6 hotels but that was cool because the fact that we were warned and removed became part of the story of our stunt.

#2 Uniform (and the ever important Shoes) - The best lessons I learned from Joey Ramone and Pee Wee Herman are that people respect a uniform.

For SXSW I wore the same thing for the entire week. Sure I had multiples so I didn't offend people fragrance wise but it was important that every photo that was taken of me and any casual glance from someone in the hallway counted as a brand touch (different from a bad touch) because as a new brand I was looking to build awareness as well as get the point across that I am with a new company and let my wardrobe act as a silent salesperson for Thoora....also it didn't hurt that my uniform was awesome!

#3 Canadian Breakfast - 11% of all attendees of SXSW were Canadian. On top of that 61% of all stats are made up. Made up numbers aside there are a lot of Canadians attending this event so we decided to host a little breakfast full of Maple Syrup and beaver jokes. The purpose of the breakfast really was just to do something nice and to get together with friends and make some new ones in the name of our flag but it was also an inexpensive way to make some people feel special and deliver a new reason for conversation around our brand and what we are doing at Thoora.com

#4 Hand to Hand Combat - The phrase "hand-to-hand" indicates unarmed combat but I like to think of it as advanced networking. You can do all sorts of stunts and cool things but if you don't follow up with a conversation or let people attach a face to something your stunts will lack the final piece of the equation. Going to SXSW is "the" single most fun thing I do all year because I get to do stuff like I am writing about as well as see friends but on top of all of that I make it my goal to speak to EVERY single person at the conference. I admit this isn't possible but I do want every person touched by my presence in some way and I work tirelessly to accomplish this.

#5 Community Panel - I have been very fortunate to speak at SXSW every year I have attended. This year I hosted a panel on Community Management: The Future Skills You Will Need" I was joined by Sarah Prevette (Sprouter.com), Justin Thorp (AddThis.com), Amber Naslund (Radian6), Seamus Condron (formerly of MediaBistro) and Andres Glusman (Meetup.com) and dare I say we had a great discussion. The room was packed, so much so that people were turned away, and the lucky ones that did get a seat were not only treated to over an hour of interesting information but everyone was given a the very same Thoora.com (see #2) t-shirt I wore during the talk on their way out.

#6 #PepsiRefresh - Sometimes when I am telling a joke I like to take people on a long journey that doesn't always deliver the impact at the punch line that it would if you just took the direct route. I know this and still do it because I am maybe not looking for an immediate laugh but something a little bigger. This is the quickest way to explain why when asked what the HashTag for the Community Management Panel (see #5) I chose it to be #pepsirefresh. Funny right? OK so here are the real reasons I did it.
  • It made people scratch their head and ask why I did it and that resulted in 5 extra seconds of thinking about what possible connection there was between Thoora and Pepsi (and thinking about Thoora at all)
  • There was a HUGE screen in the Pepsi Booth (at the entrance of the conference center) showing all mentions of the Pepsi Refresh project and this was my way of bringing our panel outside of our room and allowing the people downstairs to follow it as well.
  • It is funny to me (here is the delayed punch line) to think that when Pepsi's PR agency reports back to Pepsi on all their twitter mentions there will be 100+ about our panel, our panelists and of course Thoora and through confusion they will be exposed to a new brand.
  • Finally, I think the Pepsi Refresh project is a great initiative. I admire Bonin Bough (one of the people behind it) and this gave me a reason to be able to include it in my wrap up email post.
#7 Open your bedroom to strangers - I always say the best way to deliver a message is through a good old fashioned kidnapping! Well society and the police disagree so the next best thing is to allow people to willingly stay with you. Through a series of events I was asked if someone from a major media outlet could stay with me for a night. After weighing the opportunity of getting Thoora on this outlet to the chance of me being brutally killed in my sleep, I said yes. Well long story short I had a gentleman stay with me for a night, didn't die but much to my surprise the stranger I let stay with me wasn't the person who was supposed to be there. Yes, I had the wrong total stranger in my room.

Why am I telling you this?

To be honest...I'm telling everyone :)

Please note that all the photo's in this post were taken from other people who felt the impact of these events and were not staged in any way...except the business card pict. That one was staged but I assure you that no business cards were harmed in the taking of the picture.


Krista Neher said...

Great post - you totally rocked SXSW and definitely built awareness and great opportunities for your organization. I think that pulling off the human billboard in a cool way is definitely something that we can all learn from. Also, the newsletters were a killer idea. Thanks for sharing your marketing wisdom.
- Krista

saulcolt said...

Thanks Krista. I appreciate you reading the blog!


Jamie Gale said...

We've been thinking of a lot of different ways to blast our company name out there and have been successful along the way so far but can never get enough of hearing about unique guerrilla ways of doing this! We know we have to do the obvious like being active on our blog and re-adding the comment section (which disappeared for some reason), but gently putting it in peoples faces in unique and interesting ways is great to see! Awesome post! Hope to see you in Vancouver again soon, and thanks for keeping us on our toes!

Jamie Gale

Howard Greenstein said...

I also loved your "Al Hirshfeld" trick in the Thoora shirt. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Hirschfeld) for you lazy folks.

Dave George said...

Love it. Love the uniform idea. I plan to steal this. :)


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