How SXSW achieved 97% satisfaction at their first ever hybrid event

Company
SXSW
Event Name
South by Southwest Conference and Festivals
Event Type
Virtual & Hybrid
Event Size
500+
Exhibitors
9,000+
Users engaging with the online exhibitor platform
97%
Positive response to recommendations

Challenge

After a two-year break from in-person events, the legendary SXSW festival was ready to welcome people back to Austin, Texas. With some attendees still hesitant to travel, the organisers wanted to put on a hybrid event that provided a first-class experience for both in-person attendees and those who joined virtually. Similarly, exhibitors needed new tools to showcase their products and engage with a hybrid audience.

Outcome

The event was a huge success with both virtual and in-person attendees. The SXSW  Expo App helped people easily navigate the venue and find the exhibitors that interested them most. Meanwhile, the lead generation component meant exhibitors could easily capture leads and better co-ordinate their sales teams to quickly follow up with interested parties.

SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together. That’s why we selected Grip. We wanted a technology partner that has a proven track record connecting conference participants so they discover more and walk away with an amazing, valuable event experience.

Justin Bankston
Chief Technical Officer, SXSW

Founded in 1987, the South by Southwest conference (SXSW) is best known for its annual festival that celebrates the very best of tech, film, music, education and culture. 

The event, hosted in Austin, Texas, attracts a diverse range of forward-thinking exhibitors, from promising startups to established industry leaders. The conference has featured some of the most distinguished industry and thought leaders of our time, with speakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Lizzo, Mark Cuban, Bruce Springsteen, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Olivia Wilde, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama, to name just a few.

As a result, SXSW is renowned for bringing creatives together in a unique environment where they can learn from each other, form connections and achieve their goals. 

2022 was a big year for the SXSW team. It was their first in-person event since 2019 due to the pandemic. Clearly the team were eager to make it an event to remember. However, with some people still hesitant to travel, it quickly became clear that a hybrid approach would be necessary. 

Putting on a hybrid event that delivers the same high level of value to all attendees requires careful planning. SXSW’s organisers wanted everyone to get the same cohesive experience, whether they were attending virtually or in-person. For example, if someone bought a platinum badge they would also have access to everything online, while an online pass holder should have access to all of the onsite exhibitors. 

Similarly, exhibitors wanted a virtual showcase so they could reach a wider audience, connect with attendees (both digitally and in-person) and generate more leads. 

Delivering more value to in-person and virtual participants

To meet these challenges, the organisers turned to Grip, the AI-powered event, networking and matchmaking platform. Grip’s technology was used at the Creative Industries Expo, Wellness Expo, XR Experience,Flatstock 77 and SXSW EDU exhibitions, helping both attendees and exhibitors get the most out of the event. 

“SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together,” said Justin Bankston, Chief Technical Officer at SXSW. “That’s why we selected Grip. We wanted a technology partner that has a proven track record connecting conference participants so they discover more and walk away with an amazing, valuable event experience. There hasn’t been an in-person SXSW in either 2020 or 2021 so we wanted an event app that delivers more value to our in-person and virtual participants than ever before.”

With the app, on-site attendees could use the fully-interactive floor plan to navigate the expo areas, search the exhibitor directory, chat with exhibitors and arrange for times to meet either virtually or in real life.

Exhibitors feel the need for speed

Exhibitors who wanted more leads and sales opportunities could upgrade their profile and add additional resources to their digital showcase, such as white papers, videos, social media details and more. This led to more potential leads for the exhibitors, more revenue for the organisers and more value for the attendees. 

Grip further streamlined the lead generation process by enabling exhibitors to view and export their leads in real-time. While other events commonly make exhibitors wait days before sharing lead information, exhibitors at SXSW could follow up on any interest immediately. This dramatically increased the chance that leads would turn into customers. For example, studies show firms that follow up on queries within an hour are 60 times more likely to qualify a lead than those that wait 24 hours or longer. 

The app also helped exhibitor staff collaborate more effectively. For example, the sales team at the Expo used the SXSW Expo App to scan badges and qualify leads. They then collaborated with colleagues back at the office to screen incoming leads and prioritize follow ups. These real-time updates added a gamification element as team members competed to have more conversations and close more deals. 

Results that were out of this world 

With exhibitions including the Back to the Future DeLorean, an anti-gravity space cafe and a Mr Robot experience, SXSW’s first hybrid event was an event to remember. Also many country houses, from Brazil, Mexico and the UK were showcasing new bands, tech startups, film and tv productions. This all resulted in attendance levels exceeding expectations, while a strong online component ensured no one missed out. 

All participants, in-person and online, were able to enjoy the vast amount of content provided by SXSW. There were over 1,500 sessions, keynotes, talks and red carpet interviews, more than 300 virtual events and 170 live music and comedy performances. Over 60 sessions were streamed live, with virtual participants able to join and chat with in-person attendees. An additional 300 sessions were captured and made available on demand. 

The hybrid approach also increased overall engagement. SXSW is held over nine days, which is a lot to take in. People would typically come for four or five days but, with the hybrid setup in-person attendees were also able to engage with the online content, both before and after their visit to Austin, enabling them to get as much of the experience as possible.

Back to the future of SXSW

After the success of their first hybrid event, the organisers plan to use a similar approach going forward. “There's just a world of opportunity here,” explains Michael Brown, VP of innovation at SXSW. “Travelling is expensive, especially for international exhibitors and attendees. A hybrid event means that people who wouldn’t normally be able to come can now attend.”

As SXSW continues to build its content library, the team is also looking for new ways to promote that content more effectively, including year-round engagement using the SXSW TV app. By giving attendees smart recommendations, based on their interests, they won’t miss out on any relevant content. 

Throughout this, the organisers are keen to ensure that everyone gets the most out of the event. “You have a wide range of artists, filmmakers, musicians and speakers who are sharing their creation, their story, their viewpoints,” says Michael. “Our job is to promote them to our audience and amplify their voice. At the same time, we have to think about the attendees and provide the most value to them, because they’re really what keeps SXSW going.”

SXSW will continue to use technology to help exhibitors increase their ROI from the event. For example, Grip’s new Lead Notes and Lead Scoring features allow exhibitors to easily capture and record valuable information about potential leads, prioritise and upload them to their CRM systems. This further increases the ‘speed-to-lead’ metric, ensuring that sales reps can quickly follow up with prospects they connect with at the event in a more personalised way. 

Make event connections count

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