Because the world was begging for another SxSW wrap up


Liz Taylor and I spent a few days at SxSW. We did a pretty great wrap-up (legends in our own minds) for our Ogilvy colleagues.  Rather than posting the entire doc, here are a few things we found interesting, quotes we love, and practical tips for navigating SxSW ...



  • Mobile isn’t a thing. It’s everything. Stop thinking mobile and start thinking mobility. Reference: Doritos tweet powered concert
  • Hardware is the new black. Concepting, prototyping and marketing has never been more accessible. It’s no longer just about apps. Let’s get physical. Let’s make stuff. Cool stuff. Reference: MakerBot
  • Hacking to make & solve. Let’s push beyond concepts. Let’s get away from process, beyond the whiteboard and make stuff. It can be low fidelity but some artifact that brings the idea to life. Deliver something real. Reference: GOOD Design Hackathon
  • Idea is still king. Don’t get seduced by the shiny new thing.  A great idea – driven by a true insight – is more important than all the technology in the world and prevails regardless of the platform. Reference: Clouds Over Cuba
  • Telling stories with data. Find the emotional life of numbers. Create tools, not just ads. Reference: Basis
  • Location Location Location. It’s not gameification.  It’s search and discovery. Data informs habits, which can connect the dots to drive people to behaviors. Reference: Foursquare/Mastercard/Burger King


  • Tell stories regardless of the medium. Every great story needs an arc. -Erich Joiner, Tool of North America
  • You don’t have to solve all the problems, you just have to solve some problems really well .-Dennis Crowley
  • A clash of ideas from people who don’t typically work together can create a unique outcome. A powerful spark. -Anon
  • Hi I'm Ben. I post pictures of cats on the Internet. Sometimes people getting hit in the nuts. -Ben Huh
  • Demographics are dehumanizing. -Anon
  • Collaborate. Ignore your inner ego. -Tina Roth Eisenberg
  • The first interaction a consumer might have with a brand might be an @ reply on twitter, not a logo. -Anon
  • Make time to think & breathe. Wonderful things can happen when your brain is empty -Tina Roth Eisenberg







It's that time of year, when the global digerati invade Austin (much to the dismay of some) for the annual South by Southwest Interactive conference (SxSW).

Much has been made in the last few years that the conference has jumped the shark, but the way I see it you get out of the conference (or any conference) what you put into it.


With that, I've scoured the scheduling tool on their web site, have RSVPd to the events that seem fun, and have connected privately with friends and strangers I look forward to connecting with while I'm there.

With my departure 48 hours away, I was thinking about what I'm most looking forward to and expecting ...

We're all adults here.  It's no secret that the parties are a big part of the conference experience. But those who have never been to SxSW can't really appreciate the truth in the cliche that the most meaningful interactions happen at social events.  It's where you meet colleagues from other offices, people you only "know" online, potential new hires, new business leads, exciting startups, partners, etc.. Laugh if you will, but it's just true.  Particularly looking forward to seeing folks like Virginia, David, Josh and others of their ilk.

Every year themes emerge. It's hard to explain, but it's like one or two things happen that everyone talks about at and after the conference.  Looking at the panels I've chosen to attend (n=1), here are some of those themes we'll be talking about for months to come (most are not new, actually):

  • Game design and gamification (and particularly how they apply to marketing and product development) 
  • Social video (how to do it well, how to get it seen)
  • Behavioral science (understanding how the brain works so that we can communicate more effectively)
  • Mobile (no-brainer)
  • "Hacking" and the Maker movement (creating real life experiences fueled by technology)
  • Social overload (is social too much? are we inundating? inundated?)
  • Storytelling (another no-brainer)
  • Big data (how to harness and use it effectively)

And while the points above are speculative, there's one thing I know for certain. Come Monday afternoon I'll be very much looking forward to getting home to my kids.

Will share my learnings. And if you want to connect please DM me.  I'm @iansohn.

Anatomy Of A Cocktail Party, In Four Parts*


Guestlist I'd rank guest list as the single most important factor in a successful cocktail party.  Has to be the right mix of people with similar, but not too similar, tastes.  They should be really excited to be there and ready to shake it up a bit.

There are two way to build your guest list ...

The most logical and effective way is usually to network among your friends (or entities like social clubs) to meet a few really interesting folks who will, in turn, invite a few of their interesting friends.  This will ensure a varied, but vetted, mix.

The second way is to buy your guests.  Perhaps you run an ad on Hollywood Blvd inviting people to come.  Or maybe you offer everyone who attends something free (and expensive).  Either way, just make sure you're cool with the fact that many of the guests aren't there to really hang out, and probably won't ever come back.  And also, expect to spend a lot of money in the process.

It's your call.  There's merit in both, depending on your objectives.  If want to throw the BEST party,  option 1 makes sense.  If your sights are set on outdoing the Jones family, option 2 could work.


After the guest list, the host is the next most important factor to a great affair.  You can invite the most interesting (or just the most) people, but if you don't have a host who can get the Images conversation/dancing started, your party is doomed.

As the host, have you thought about your welcoming remarks? Have you poured over your guest list to determine what connections you might make?  Have you thought about how you'll handle an unruly guest, or someone who comes expecting free stuff, and whatever you're offering isn't enough?

*if you haven't figured it out yet, this post has nothing to do with cocktail parties


Interesting Decor is tricky.  You want to make sure the space is visually pleasing, but not overwhelming or distracting from the conversation.  Enough cool things to look at and interact with (and for people to tell their friends about, so they come to the next event).

Not all of us are gifted in this area, but some of us refuse to acknowledge our limitations.  I've been to plenty of otherwise nice parties that fall flat on the decor.  Usually the problem is that the host is hellbent on pushing their style, rather than thinking about their guests.

I tend to include food and beverage in the decor bucket.


So what are you giving people to remember their great experience?  What's that artifact that will sit on their coffee table or office shelf that will remind them of your great event?  Even better, what will get their friends, family and co-workers chatting about the party, and jockeying for an invite to the next one?  You have thought about this, right?

My SxSW Experience

Originally posted on the Ogilvy blog.

I've got a lot of thoughts about SxSW.  Frankly, I'm not sure how I'll synthesize them all into a longer-form post with a modicum of value (perhaps I should hire one of the unbelievably talented Ogilvy Notes artists).

Starter for 10, I pulled a slightly incomplete word cloud based on my Twitter output from Friday-Monday (courtesy of Wordle).


What it tells me ... I obviously liked it.  Clearly I met a lot of  great, funny people.  Apparently the iPad was on my brain.  Austin made a big impression on me.  I liked a lot of people, places and things.  I responded to @virginiamiracle quite a bit.  My outfit of choice was jeans.  And I crowdsourced a new word for when someone accidentally takes your drink at Starbucks - Starpluck (I am on an Urban Dictionary kick lately).

Again, I'm still trying to sort out what resonated with me.  Broadly speaking, here are the themes that sparked second and third thoughts, and which I hope to explore in the near future:

Video: I sought out and loved a few sessions on video.  How to make it compelling.  How to make it interactive.  How to make it beautiful.  There is some unbelievably creative stuff going on right now on YouTube, and the future promises to blow our minds.  Check out what the Fine Brothers are doing with 'choose your own adventure' style videos.  The opportunities seem endless.

Experimentation: Something I heard everywhere - regardless of the topic at hand - was that experimentation wins.  It's faster.  It's more agile.  It often leads to bigger breakthroughs.  Idea to execution in the shortest time can be a winning approach.  Duh, Ian.  I know, but hearing it so many times in so few days is very reinforcing.

Humor: Between the Oatmeal and Baratunde I had plenty of laughs.  Humor entertains.  And entertainment can be a form of engagement.  There's a right and wrong way to be funny in, say, 140 characters.  What intrigues me is the permission (or not) brands have to be funny (or try to be funny) in social media.  Get it right - you're beloved.  Get it wrong - get the gong.

Relevance: Our own relevance, that is.  Lots of discussions.  How do we stay relevant?  How do we stay passionate?  How do we discover the next great thing?  How do we innovate - for ourselves, our agencies and our clients?  How to we keep learning?  One answer I heard over and over  (and over and over) was delving into side-projects.  Little things with friends or colleagues.  Not necessarily to make a buck, but rather to make something cool and energizing.  The lingering question ... how willing are employers to give their people the white space to experiment?  3M and Google have thrived off this model.  Are you willing to follow that path?  Check out Method & Craft for a really inspiring example of passion-turned-side-project.  Wonderful stuff.

Branded Content Creation and Curation: The role of brand as creator and curator of content was a pervasive theme.  Besides one very dogmatic journalist I saw, everyone seemed to agree that brand as content creator is an unstoppable force. Fraught with issues yet to be sorted?  Sure.  But it's happening and only promises to grow.  The topic of brand as curator wasn't as widely discussed in the panels I attended, but I'd argue that's where the debate should be taking place (best-practices, editorial obligations, rights issues, etc.).

That's all I've got for the time being.  By the way, having been on the outside looking in, I know how 'noisy' SxSW seems via Twitter.  I can assure you the madness and mayhem of SxSW has been grossly exaggerated.  It's quite manageable, sane and enjoyable (with a little planning, and plenty of flexibility).

As you'll likely hear in every wrap-up post, it's the people that make SxSW amazing.  So many old and new faces.

Dive in next year - I'm happy to hang with you in a quiet bar over a beer and BBQ.

Storytelling With a Music Business Vet (Dan Beck)

I've known Dan Beck since 2002.  By my calculations Dan has worked and lived in the upper echelons of the music business for four decades.  He recently started one of the most entertaining blogs around, called Music Bizz Fizz - a collection of nearly unbelievable stories about his run-ins with some of music's greatest legends.

Dan-Beck-Elisa-Perry-Joe- Dan is a born storyteller.  Since I've known him he's dazzled me with personal [and mostly, touching] stories about Ozzie(Osbourne), Michael (Jackson), Cyndi (Lauper), Richard (Branson) and others.

I asked him if he'd answer a few questions on storytelling, which seems to be on the tip of every marketer's tongue these days.  Here's what he had to say.

I'm almost certain he'd answer more questions if you leave them as a comment. Go for it ... this guy has been there, done that.

Ian Sohn:  'Storytelling' is a red hot topic these days in marketing circles.  I hear brand managers and agency types talk all the time about how brands need to mine interesting stories from inside the organization, and then bring them to life for external audiences.  Why do you suppose there's such a deliberate emphasis on storytelling these days - is there something happening culturally right now that makes it more important than a few years ago? 

Dan Beck:  We are so connected today and so in touch.  I believe that this re-awakening to storytelling is the realization that storytelling is a way to texture and validate an idea or more warmly position a relationship.  All of our advancements in 24/7 communication are two dimensional and storytelling is a humanistic tool to add depth, history, and perspective. 

IS: Your blog,, is a collection of great stories from your four decades in the music business.  Why did you now choose to start sharing those memories publicly? 

DB: I started my career as a writer and my passion was to be a lyricist/songwriter.  As an editor for a music trade magazine in Nashville , I was writing stories back in the ‘70’s, about the storytellers in country music; people like Tom T. Hall and Charlie Daniels.  Then, as a marketing execuRichard-Sanders-Steven-Tyltive, I was given an enormous gift to work with so many extraordinarily talented recording artists in country, rock, pop, and soul, over the years that were so fascinating to me.  I feel a certain obligation to share those experiences that were given to me, from working with Pearl Jam and Michael Jackson to the many  artists who never made it.  I know 50 other people who have better stories than mine, but their not telling them!  It has always been an extremely difficult business for creative people to survive.  I believe there are lessons in their experiences, in their courage, and in the hallucination of chasing fame and celebrity with ones talents.  The breakthroughs, the mistakes, even the naïve perspective we might have had back then were all a part of trying to figure out how to succeed.  Maybe there is something in that a new mind can advance.  Maybe I have never figured some of these things out, but if I share them, maybe someone else can gain something from these extraordinary experiences.     

IS: What makes a good storyteller?  Is it the story or the teller?  If both, what elements are critical for each? 

DB: I think the story has to be relatable.  People have to be able to apply it in some way to their own life.  I think there has to be a good conclusion… or at least a conclusion that makes you think or ponder it.  The best storytellers love the story they are telling.  I grew up listening to storytellers and what I remember most was their joy in remembering and telling their stories.   

IS: How much does accuracy matter in storytelling?  I noticed some of the comments you receive on your blog posts are people correcting little things (it was a 747 not a prop plane) to more significant ones (I was not on that trip when The Clash ...).  To me it makes very little difference since some of your tales are 30+ years old, and little inaccuracies don't fundamentally change the story (or perhaps because my wife tells me I tend to make up historical 'facts').  But think about a brand telling a story to its stakeholders ... can inaccuracies or creative liberties be tolerated? 

SADE DB: One of the best experiences I have had has been the responses to correct my version of history.  I wrote a story about being backstage at the first Clash concert in the US .  I was with 6-8 people from the record company.  I got half the people wrong who were there.  Within a couple of hours of posting it, I had heard from several people who were there 31 years ago and we pieced together the entire backstage scene.  It was stunning to realize the speed of connection today and also how warm that connection is between people who experienced something very special way back when.  Storytelling doesn’t make the storyteller the authority.  To me, it is just bringing information forward… accurate or inaccurate.  We share stories; which means we can share our evaluation of them.  Stories do not have to be believable to be good.  We have all heard tall tales that were a lot of fun to hear and they seem to all contain some incredible morsel of truth.  Some of the best storytellers are the biggest BSers.  We still enjoy them.  With that said, silver-tongued devils can lead a brand astray.  The story is just the illustration of a point.  You have to have a point that needs to be made or a value in your brand or product that needs to be illustrated.  Usually, if you’re BSing someone, you actually don’t have a point.  What is the agenda of the storyteller?  Whenever I write a story, I ask myself, “What is my agenda?”  I then try to make sure that agenda is going to pass muster with my readers.  If I put forward a personal accomplishment in a story, it better have some basis of believability.  People accept imperfection when it is delivered with honestly.  Imperfection when combined with an agenda is the breeding ground for dishonesty.          

IS: The requisite social media question ... do you think brands or people can tell stories in 140 character installments, or does a good story require a longer form? 

DB: The reality is that most stories need to be short.  I’m not sure I will ever learn that in my lifetime!  However, I’ve realized through writing the blog that there is always a battle between all the facts or issues of a story and getting it across succinctly.  I actually enjoy the editing process, because you really work toward simplifying and shortening the story.  Sometimes the best stories are simply a photo.  How often have you seen a long, enthusiastic thread of comments on Facebook that all started with a photo?  Every story is a child/parent to several other stories.  The best stories I’ve told get interrupted midstream by people who are so enthusiastic about adding their experience.  Which reminds me of a great story…  

5 Things I've Observed About #SXSW From Afar

A few quick observations from afar ...

  1. As a brand you really don't want to piss off a bunch of social media professionals. 
  2. A few people have taken a very clever approach to cutting through the Twitter noise.
  3. This year's Twitter hasn't seemed to emerge.
  4. BBQ is the official city cuisine of Austin.
  5. It sounds like people are having a great time and really value making offline connections - that is cool.