Briefing for experiences, not ads: why clients need to go to SXSW

Events like SXSW can fuel creativity and innovation for brands but, Leo Burnett's global head of social and mobile and co-founder of Holler James Kirkham says that clients and brands need to experience and collaborate more closely to benefit.

To really benefit from SXSW, agencies need to start taking clients
To really benefit from SXSW, agencies need to start taking clients

This was the year I really discovered the true worth of SXSW. My inaugural experience 12 months ago was a little chaotic and confused. The sprawling layout of Austin means ‘South by Virgins’ tend to fall into panel sessions without enough prior thought, or spend more time traversing the streets between each of the venues than they do actually learning.

If you stick enough smarts into a room and nourish them with light Texan beer then chats will escalate swiftly in the best possible way

But this year was different. Armed with a packed planner and with plenty of local hook-ups it meant everything just worked out. It meant returning with a headful of ideas and creative fuel topped up to the max.

Creative fuel

There are plenty of agency folk wandering around, and you genuinely have some of the best conversations of the year. It stands to reason too; if you stick enough smarts into a room and nourish them with light Texan beer then chats will escalate swiftly in the best possible way. In fact your brain feels like it has an extreme work out, never switching off and always building on the idea of the person next to you.

Such was the excellence of the conversation that it feels right to point out that I think we all need to do this together now, as one. Like in Cannes when agencies and clients both tend to partner up together in order to learn and network, so SXSW needs to follow suit for us all. Because this stuff is important, it is the future of our industry and our working lives. The cliche and stereotype is that SXSW is some new emerging technology ideas, which are brilliant gimmicks but often fade out again. Who really remembers now Gowalla, which was the talk of the festival a few years ago, a location based application acting as competitor to Foursquare? The fact is many brands do not. Yet the influence of such a concept still has significance today in terms of mobile first behaviours for consumers.

Who really remembers now Gowalla, which was the talk of the festival a few years ago, a location based application acting as competitor to Foursquare? 

Meerkat

This year the whole town was talking about ‘Meerkat’. This video streaming application which enables you to live stream your camera to anyone who follows you takes citizen journalism on significantly. People are loving it, everyone is talking about it. But whether the application remains dominant or not is not the point. Just like in the trade hall itself where you see a million people sharing a million different ideas, 90% of which I’m not sure will see the light of day. But it is the collective effect of their influence which is most important. It is what we will all learn from and it should impact marketing plans for 2016 as of now.

Briefing for experience, not ads

This year what stood out was the feeling that we need to start looking at briefing for experiences rather than adverts. What would a brief for an ‘experience’ look like? It needs to be collaboration between client and agency where expectations are openly discussed, not blindly followed. Many have talked for a while about acts not ads. Yet in reality this comes from the rare brilliance of the creative solution which makes an act as the byproduct of its brilliance, rather than a tried and tested ‘Ad’. The latter is what, after all, would have been briefed. But if we flip this and talk about the briefing itself, then It feels like we’re moving the momentum forward. This cannot be done solely by agency folk, it requires the buy-in and endorsement and joined up enthusiasm of  clever brands too.

Briefing for experiences, not ads, means we really get under the skin of future communications. We can still think about 30 second experiences, but not just 30 second TV spots

Briefing for experiences, not ads, means we really get under the skin of future communications. We can still think about 30 second experiences, but not just 30 second TV spots. Experiences mean living in the moment. The experience could mean live activations or building up to the experience too. They mean telling people about the experience and disseminating the content from it.

Disappear into the ether

The right combination of clients and agencies will mean we all start sharing these fabulous eureka moments together. We’re all part of the shared cited conversation and quickly evolve observations into considered thoughts through to incredible new ideas. All of these people will be on their 10 hour flights home to the UK, pounding at their laptops with a greater understanding how to advance their own spheres of marketing or advertising communications. Whereas the best we currently get is a small amount of agency folk showing the top 5 things they learned, which disappear into the ether. This would mean actual working streams between clients and agencies can develop the moment you touch down on terra firma and plans can be actioned almost immediately.

The conversation around SXSW and the energy within the festival is something to embrace by all of us. Only by attending now together and acting as partners will we fully be able to further our collective thinking and start getting to where we all really want to go.

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