Friday, March 8th, 2019 | 7 min read
Greetings, dear reader, from the beautiful JW Marriott in Austin, TX.
Today, and every day until next Thursday, I’ll be running around SXSW and sharing my observations and thoughts in this space. As a SXSW first-timer, the volume and range of sessions is overwhelming, but I’m confident that I’ll be able to see enough, learn enough, and ultimately share enough to justify Sprinklr’s decision to send me down here and give me a nice hotel room.
With that preamble out of the way, I urge you (beg, really) to refresh this blog throughout the day, and then check the blogs that will go out on each subsequent day.
It’s SX, baby. The brands are here, the innovators are here, the crowds are here, and well, I’m here too.
The Future of Fandom
“Sports fans today are more informed and have more access than ever before.” That observation from Gene Miller, Head of Sports Experience at Hulu, reflects both the challenges and opportunities of today’s sports media landscape. During the first session I hit – Going into Overtime for the Connected Fan – Miller shared his thoughts alongside Ed Romaine, Chief Brand Officer at Bleacher Report, and Dan Rossomondo, Head of Media & Business Development at the NBA.
The panelists agreed that the challenge for leagues, networks, and fan sites alike is providing the best content and experience possible at a time when sports fans can engage directly with their favorite teams and players. With instant access to games and highlights, not to mention an unencumbered view of athletes’ personal lives, it can be a challenge to keep things fresh and, most important, keep fans engaged.
Social media is, of course, the primary driver of this new world. As Romaine pointed out, once social exploded, “Sports became seasonally agnostic.” That is, fans gained the means to follow their favorite teams and athletes all year long.
Social also provides the way to keep brands on-board. Whether that’s through mastering a human, irreverent tone like Bleacher Report, or working towards world in which the NBA can tweet about a close game that’s going into the fourth quarter, and allow social viewers to simply click and watch the action immediately.
My first blunder
After the sports panel wrapped, I scooted over to The Four Seasons (first time I’ve ever written that sentence) in hopes of catching a presentation on the future of supermarkets and retail at large. My attempt to start the day with my two favorite themes – sports & food – was stymied, sadly, since the ballroom is packed to capacity.
The good news is that next store, a panel titled “Feminist Rising: Why Brands Must Take a Stand” is about to start, and I found a seat. More to come.
An original taste of Austin
Everyone knows that Austin is crazy for food trucks. Well, it didn’t take long for me to find the most unique one of the bunch. You can’t get this kind of experience anywhere else!
At the aforementioned panel (“Feminist Rising: Why Brands Must Take a Stand”), a panel of powerhouse women rang in International Women’s Day by sharing their thoughts on how brands can – and, increasingly, must – foster inclusive internal environments and appeal to as diverse an audience as possible.
Well known designer Rebecca Minkoff discussed how consumers, especially women, are increasingly committed to supporting brands that share their priorities. “Values go deeper than product,” she said. “It’s important that we align ourselves with brands that stand for something.”
Becca McCharen-Tran, Founder & CEO of progressive swimwear brand Chromat, offered an anecdote that reflects the changing dynamic that Minkoff described. She said that five years ago, most high-level fashion retailers were reticent to stock a wide range of sizes in their women’s swimwear departments. “Fast forward to last year, we have a plus size category in Nordstrom’s,” she said to applause.
McCharen-Tran added that progress has occurred so quickly, in fact, that there is often backlash against brands that don’t cater to a diverse set of women – whether that’s in terms of race, age, abilities, or gender or sexual identity.
Nothing is as it seems
SXSW is a chance for brands to take over and makeover many of Austin’s hotels, bars, restaurants, and spare sidewalk real estate. The transformations make some parts of town feel as if they were erected overnight – nightlife hub Rainey Street, in particular, feels like the Old West area of an amusement park (but with HBO and Twitter installations instead of water rides).
Then there are the guerrilla marketing campaigns that send individuals into the streets to promote new shows and offer product samples. Earlier today, I saw a 20-person motorcycle crew rumble through downtown Austin, only to realize hours later that the bikers’ vests – which had the authentic black & white look from a distance – were actually touting an upcoming Amazon series.
It’s marketing by brute force. And while it may feel a little obnoxious, it’s hard to argue with the results. After all, I’m talking about it, and you’re reading it.
Even at the world renowned SXSW, sometimes the audio doesn’t work when a presenter tries to play a video.
Mental health in the newsroom and beyond
The panel “Newsroom Burnout: Last Straw for Journalism?” was made up of and directed towards – drumroll please – journalists, but it was applicable to several different professions.
Moderator Lucy Kueng, Professor Sr Research Fellow at Reuters Institute, explained that everybody in an organization, from an intern on up to a CEO, is susceptible to burnout. Irritability, aggression, and cynicism are the emotional signs of burnout, she said, and on the work front, burnout victims tend to struggle with listening and embracing complexity.
So, how do managers – at news outlets and corporations alike – prevent their people from feeling rundown? Kueng said that higher ranking professionals need to build serious trust with their charges, so that if someone is feeling the onset of burnout, they feel comfortable letting their manager know. She added that managers themselves shouldn’t be afraid to show weakness and vulnerability, and in doing so, establish that mental health is an important issue and not a taboo.
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