Gini Dietrich

SxSW: Why I’m Not There

By: Gini Dietrich | March 16, 2010 | 

I’ve had a ton of people ask me why I’m not at SxSW and, rather than repeating myself via direct message, I figure I talk about transparency all the time so I should tell you why I’m not there.

I run a business. Granted, it’s a small business, but I have employees, I have payroll to cut, I have checks to sign, I have clients to answer to, and I have goals to achieve. So, just like any other business expense, I have to weigh the pros and cons of the return on investment, not just on the out-of-pocket costs to attend, but also on the time lost that I could be working with clients (i.e. making money).

Sure, there are returns on both time and money at conferences IF potential clients attend the same events. But, in the case of SxSW, as fun as it would be to hang out with my friends, meet Twitter friends in real life, and be among the social media hubbub, the potential to come home with new business opportunities was slim to none. So, from an emotional standpoint, I’m dying to be there, but from a business perspective, I made the right choice.

Does that mean I’ll never show up to SxSW? No. But if I am there, you’ll know it’s because there is a potential to grow my business by showing up and participating.

Besides, I’m watching the tweet stream,  I’m reading the blog posts from those attending, and I’m consuming as much media as I can get my hands on so I don’t miss any of the news or trends. What I’m really missing are the parties.

What do you think? Am I missing more than that? Why are you or are you not at SxSW?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Oh Gini–your reasons, like any good business owner, resonate about now! The same applies for me, plus I didn’t attend simply bc I didn’t want the snooze fest of the same chatter I get through Twitter for free.

  • Twin brain again! I just blogged about this yesterday! I pretty much came to the same conclusion–that it would be fun to hang out with my friends and meet people in real life and maybe learn some new things, but it would be more of a social outing than a professionally productive one. I think it goes beyond just SXSW–we all have limited time, and we’re all trying to grow businesses and do great things for our clients. It’s easy to start attending events left and right and pretend we’re networking or business building, when in reality, we’re just socializing. That said, I still hope I can fit it on my agenda one day!

  • Thank you for writing this, Gini. I scratch my head wondering if folks walk away from SxSW and other events that are the SM hubbub with anything that resembles quick ROI. Maybe even a big new client? A hot business lead? Or if it really is about fun, ideas exchange, and networking with the hopes that something comes of it someday. I don’t mean to sound cynical. But for someone who’s never gotten on a plane and gone to SxSW or otherwise, I can only wonder if the event is loaded with business opportunity, or not. You helped answer that question.

  • Gini Dietrich

    I’ll likely get thrown out of industry organization by saying this, but all of these events are great for networking (in terms of meeting people from around the world), but you almost never walk away with new business or a hot lead. I belong to Counselors Academy, which is part of PRSA for agency leaders. I love going to the annual conference because there is value in the networking, but I never learn anything nor do I ever walk away with new business. What I do walk away with is strengthened relationships for partnerships in the future. We have yet to partner with another agency, but the potential surely is there. And now I sound like an overly optimistic salesperson who has had the same prospect in the pipeline for three years.

  • As someone whose real client needs also came before attending a conference, I agree on all points.

    There’s not much that can happen in Austin that we can’t learn instantly, which I believe is the whole point, right?

    Plus, the most clever tweets, if not the most informative, are from #FakeSXSW by @BarbaraNixon and a host of others!

  • Hi Gini –
    I think it’s great you wrote this. I thought I’d throw in my two cents about why I DID attend this year.
    I help companies with experience – design, mapping, executing, improving – and SXSW has sold itself as an experience. I wanted to be part of that in real life.
    You’re right that it’s not a “meet client – get business” type of event for many of us. But for some, that is the case. I met a woman on the shuttle who had 2 interesting meetings because of the trade show here. I have definitely appreciated the real-life connections I’ve made and believe with faith they will lead to something bigger. In some cases, this might just be a future partnership for article writing, presenting, or client work that will present itself again when the time is right. I am also soaking up all the knowledge I can to bring back to my clients.
    I don’t attend many conferences because I feel like it’s the same content repackaged. SXSW, however, is different and I’m afraid it’ll be difficult to put my finger on it. I’m on the fence if I’ll return next year, but I have no regrets about attending my first SXSW this year.
    I haven’t attended as many parties as others. In many cases, I’ve opted for quieter, smaller gatherings of smart people I wanted to get to know better. That, in particular, I have zero regrets about.
    It’s easy to come to an event like this, keep your eyes on your smart phone, and not really meet anyone. So like anything else, this is what you make of it.
    See you back home, Gini!

  • Gini — thanks for sharing this. As I said to you in my email, I was feeling like the unpopular kid who didn’t get invited to the cool kid’s birthday party. But I’m with you…there are so many great professional development and networking events to attend that decisions need to be made regarding value (perceived or actual). Counselors Academy, for me, is the cool kid event. I have walked away with one or two ideas each conference that have made me a better business owner and manager. Equally as important, as you mentioned, are the relationships with other PR agency owners and managers. That network has been invaluable to me through the years.

    So I will continue to monitor the tweet stream and read the blogs and not be sad that I’m not there. I’ll be at the cool kids party soon enough.

  • Gini. I’m at SXSW as I write this – getting ready to head into the fray – and I think you make some very valid points. I don’t believe I’m going to walk away with any new business opportunities (but you never know…). I came here to learn and network and also to see what it’s all about, having followed the Twitter stream and blog posts for the past couple of years.

    Was it worth it? For me I would have to say yes. I attended some great sessions and had a chance to hear ideas and insights from some really smart people I wouldn’t otherwise see. Not every panel was a winner (Twitter’s Evan Williams was particularly underwhelming), but I went to talks about some subjects outside of my comfort zone, like the overview of research about electronic implants in the brain. I’m sharing my insights through blog posts(two so far, more to come-shameless plug).

    And I’ve enjoyed meeting and getting to know to new people who are interested in exploring new boundaries of communications as you and I are.

    Sure, it’s a big party scene and the after-hours social calendar is really important to some. I’m no shut-in by any means, but I prefer to be a bit more alert in the morning for the sessions.

    Will I return? I think so. I always like to try things twice or more – also with my bad sense of direction I need to do that so I can figure out how to get around.

  • Happy Tuesday Gini! Decisions of this nature are so personal. Some will attend because doing so clearly supports goals and priorities set for the year. Others, to be part of something special and to assess its overall significance for themselves. And others still will be following an intuitive prompting that urges them to be there, though they may not know why until later reflection.

    I didn’t participate because at this time, the value for me in doing so was not readily apparent ~ and other responsibilities and obligations took priority. I have experienced, though, that we can’t always know in advance the reward a decision might bring ~ and sometimes the best measure we can go by is whether or not a choice brings us closer to, or further from, the path we’re travelling at any given time.

    I’m enjoying the tweets of those who are there ~ and will now go and read the fakesxsw tweets too (thanks Jack!.

  • Mark Sherrick

    Excellent post, Gini. Priorities are something that many people throw out the window for the sake of something else far too often. Plenty of people had valid reasons for going, as did plenty for not going.

    I kinda see SxSW in the same vein as Comicon, Blizzcon, and so on. It’s a big event with tons of people, and there’s lots of stuff to see, and there are people there with knowledge of a certain topic who are invited to speak.

    Could you find a new client, or a new business venture? Sure, but you’re probably gonna go home with some cool swag, and lots of memories. It’s up to you to decide if that’s worth what may or may not happen at home.

  • One line in what you wrote really SPOKE to me, Gina…

    “So, from an emotional standpoint, I’m dying to be there, but from a business perspective, I made the right choice.”

    I’ve had to make some choices like that lately… and what has made them difficult for me is that I forgot to separate my emotional perspective from my business perspective. When I keep them tied together… it makes it SO much harder. In fact, there have been many times when I have made the WRONG choice because my emotional standpoint overpowered my business perspective. NOT a cool thing! So thanks for sharing that sentence… which will help me remember to acknowledge both but yet separate them to make the best choice for me. Or – at the least – a more honest choice.

  • Ike

    People who are objective about having a strategy FIRST for conferences are probably going to be objective about having a strategy FIRST for clients.

    Conferences are a tactic. And not to say that the people who went are posers (because I know many who aren’t,) but they are there because their business models support it.

  • Gini, as a fellow small business owner, I understand your reasoning, but as a current SXSW attendee I concur with Martin’s points above.

    I actually didn’t think about coming here as a chance to get leads because I knew sessions would be full of peers in my industry. My goal was to gain good information for my clients from sessions, to hear from thought leaders in interactive and to make connections for potential collaboration in the future.

    I think if your target audience was the people who use your products (like the vendors in the trade show itself), then you would have a case for actually gaining leads at the conference, otherwise it should be viewed as a place to gain valuable information and connections.

    I’ve enjoyed my time here and would definitely come back.

  • What it comes down to –really — is listening to your gut and seeing if you’re really drawn to an event. We don’t always know how opportunities will come out of something. That’s the fun part. Chance meetings can turn into a lucrative phone call or email, sometimes a year or more later. You can’t go expecting to come home with trophies. It’s about being open and ripe for what’s possible. And if that isn’t what’s attracting you, then best to not go.

    For me, this year it meant staying home and attending #Fakesxsw, which I was so grateful for. The creativity and high spirits were exactly what I needed. And I don’t mind saving the $1500 (travel and conf. costs) for other events that I’m really undeniably jazzed about.

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  • 🙂 On target post.

    My reasons – well, honestly I didn’t think they merited a blog post, but I did mention them briefly as part of a larger one here:

  • Since writing this this morning, I’ve read some blog posts of those attending who aren’t getting any value from the event. I think Sally is absolutely right – you get out of it what you put in to it.

    Martin and Brian, I do see your points and I do think there is HUGE value in the networking and in meeting people in real life. But, in a time where every penny counts, I have to really look at whether or not that networking is going to result in some sort of return on my investment. And I’m not just talking what it costs to get down there and to attend. I’m talking what I lose in five days of not being at my job. It’s a lot of revenue lost and not a risk I can take.

    So when someone asks why I’m not there, that is why…as much as I would love being there to see my friends and meet some people IRL.

  • I agree about “getting out what you put in” to any event, but I have to admit to not Jonesing to go. Maybe I’m losing my geek cred. Would it be fun, informative? Of course, but right now it’s just not on my Must Do list. FWIW.

  • Deb Dobson


    You raise excellent points. I also did not go to SxSW due to client opportunities/work here. I would love to have gone to meet twitter friends IRL and learn some new ideas, but I also needed to put business before what would have been a really fun event. For me, I made the right choice at this time. I’ve followed the twitterstream as I did with the LMA conference. I like Abbie felt like the kid left out. Once again, a great post Gini. I so love your style.

  • Rusty Speidel

    I agree with your business decisions, but I think it’s one of the greatest sources of creative ideas and inspiration available anywhere. Seeing folks in person, hearing their panels, reacting with questions–these drive innovation and expertise in a way that skipping it cannot. By Rusty.

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