Each March, Austin, TX plays host to South by Southwest (SXSW), one of the largest music, film and technology festivals in the world. More than 20,000 attendees from all over the world converge to present new products, network with others in their industry, and consume seemingly endless amounts of free barbecue and Lonestar Beer.
This year, Social Media Strategist and Community Manager Bob Marshall will be at the festival, repping Plan B and acting as our “man on the inside.” Bob will be live-tweeting the events through Plan B’s Twitter account (@ThisIsPlanB), and you can get in touch with him during the festival by sending him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’d love to hear from you.
Now, this isn’t Bob’s first rodeo; he reported on the music portion of the festival in 2008 and 2010. So, while many others will inundate you with blog posts over the next week about what you need to know about SXSW, Bob thinks a better use of your time would be a blog post about what you need to bring with you for your trip to Texas. So, without further ado, here are Bob’s Top 11 Must-Have Accessories for SXSW.
- Comfortable Shoes: You’ll more than likely be on your feet about 10 hours a day every day of SXSW. Considering this isn’t your typical outdoor festival, most of your time will be spent standing and walking on hard concrete. If you’re looking for the most comfortable shoes possible, go with a pair of New Balance 405’s. Sure, they may look nerdy, but then again, you’re at SXSW. Nerdy is cool here.
- Business Cards: During SXSW, more business cards are exchanged per second than during any other time of the year (statistic totally made up). As much as this is a festival, it’s also a networking event. Not coming prepared with plenty of business cards is the equivalent to showing up to work without pants: Sure, it’s one less thing to worry about, but at the end of the day, it’s just unbecoming.
- A Smartphone: Imagine going to a concert without having your phone to play with the whole time. Frightening, yes? Even more horrifying: Imagine going to a concert and being forced to actually watch the band play! Bring your smartphone to avoid this kind of devastatingly awkward situation.
- Cash: It might be an illusion brought on by the southern heat, but during SXSW, it seems that all ATMs in Austin charge about $6 per withdrawal. Even 1 percent-ers don’t want to pay this sort of outrageous fee. Do yourself a favor and stock up on bills before you hit the downtown area every day.
- An iPad 3: On Wednesday, March 7, Apple will announce the release of the iPad 3. So, by the time SXSW Interactive starts on March 9, you had better have one unless you don’t mind being ridiculed by thousands upon thousands of Apple fanboys and girls. At SXSW, conspicuous consumption is worn as a badge of honor.
- An Open Mind: In the age of social media, you’re required to listen to someone for a total of five seconds at a time. So, when discussing ideas within your industry with another festival goer, keep an open mind for five seconds before yelling over them with your own opinion. Realize you’ll only have five seconds to yell, as someone else will be yelling over you by then.
- Hometown Pride: Buy at least one t-shirt that prominently displays the city you hail from. For one, it’s a conversation starter. (“Oh, you’re from LA? Well, I’m from the Windy City, and we go HARD with Pinterest in the Chi, know what I’m sayin’?”) Also, it’s an easy way for locals to identify where the people destroying their city are from.
- Swagger: As is the case with most if not all “professional networking events,” SXSW is a wonderful opportunity for many to find that special someone. Where better to find a soul mate than a place crawling with like-minded folks traditionally obsessed with the same off-putting interests that you have? To attract a potential mate, keep your jeans tight, your glasses bulky, and your shiny iPhone 4S (the ultimate aphrodisiac) visible at all times. Ask Siri for some pickup lines should you run out.
- A Passing Interest in Texas Culture: Austin embraces the fact that most out-of-towners that come to their fair city seek a genuine, “authentic” experience of the Lonestar state. Of course, this actually means a desire to see walking stereotypes. (Cowboy hats! Accents! BBQ!) Luckily, locals deliver during SXSW, supplying eager shoppers with more cowboy hats, fake accents, and slabs of BBQ than any tourist can get “back home.” It’s not a bad way to make some quick cash off of clueless vacationers.
- A Thirst for Adventure: You might have a highly detailed Excel spreadsheet that breaks down your daily schedule into five-minute chunks of fun. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, SXSW veterans will tell you that the most noteworthy parts of their yearly pilgrimage to Austin are those that defied any intensive planning, where spontaneity paid off and they found themselves at a star-studded secret concert in the wee hours of the morning (when one would otherwise scheduled for restorative, REM intensive sleep).
- Highlight: Each year, a new mobile app or social network becomes the talk of the festival. Some (like Twitter in 2008) use the SXSW buzz as a way to launch into huge financial and commercial success, while others (like GroupMe in 2011) fail to ride the hype wave to lasting popularity. This year, new location-based iOS app Highlight may be lauded as the “next big thing.” If you’re attending this year, download Highlight, use it frequently, and make sure you have a fully formed opinion by the time you get back home so you can blog about it for all your new friends.