Attending the SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Festival is an experience of a lifetime, and for first-timers can be a little overwhelming. And for marketers it can be even more so, as we find ourselves amongst the programmers, gamers, inventors and investors that are changing the way we use the web every day. There’s an array of topics, sites, sounds and tastes to absorb, so take a moment to consider our experience at SXSW, and how you might get the most out of it.

It’s About Planning

SXSW is best enjoyed when you prep. There are hundreds of sessions spread out all over the city, with the guidebook being over 100 pages. You need to plan your stay and work that plan. The best sessions fill up quickly, and the queue starts early. So the typical 30 minutes between sessions to mill around and network won’t apply if your sessions are back to back or across town. But be sure to leave time for that networking. SXSW is a crucible of talent and offers an opportunity like no other to rub shoulders with the tech elite.

Connecting the Dots

SXSW offers a seemingly endless variety of disparate topics to appeal to any level of engagement in the tech field. But it’s a great place to discover overall emerging themes, and you can plan your activities around some common threads. Internet of Things (IoT) is something that we began to hear about several years back, and there were several SXSW sessions and events relevant to IoT and what it can mean to marketing today. It can be an abstract concept, and is still emerging, but Chris Umson’s Google Self Driving Car Project made this abstract concept real. So you don’t necessarily have to plan around a theme, because you will most likely experience several.

Grumpy Cat

Waiting in line is part of the experience at SXSW. In fact, there was one wrapped around the block to see the web’s premier feline celebrity, Grumpy Cat. Grumpy Cat matters. Why? The answer may be found in what was yet another recurring theme. The internet can be a serious place, and if you can make your visitors smile, for just a moment, they may be more receptive to your message. That was the message when Venture Capitalist and self-proclaimed “internet enthusiast” Eamon Carrey presented an entertaining and thought-provoking session titled “We Need More Mischief and Whimsy”, and was reiterated later when Kiip founder Bryan Wong offering a biochemical rationale to the phenomenon (hint: dopamine spikes) in his session “Transforming the future: Advertising and the IoT Era”.

Talented People are Everywhere

Over 100 people move to Austin every day, and SXSW brings in hordes more. The concentration of talent is staggering, so it’s not hard to imagine how good you have to be to stand out. And everyone is someone. Pick your head up from your phone and you’ll realize you are just one of the thousands of super smart, successful marketing folk hanging out with each other and learning new things. And oh yeah, there’s music too. While the official kickoff to the (more famous) music and film portion of SXSW kicks off after the interactive, there is never a shortage of live acts to see in The Live Music Capital of The World. It all makes for a great (and weird) kind of energy.

Stop and Smell the BBQ

All that walking and talking can work up an appetite, and SXSW delivers with endless opportunities to marry your interest in tech with your passion for great food. You can go from a session like Trust Me, I’m an Algorithm with Martin Harrison, to sampling some of the best BBQ in Texas at the BBQ Crash Course. Or, if you’re looking to get a little further away from the Grumpy Cat line, you can go to the Driskill Hotel for the fyi BiteClub food sampling experience, and sharpen your Instagram skills with posts of your lunch from their food porn photo studio, while sipping a scratch-made margarita.

Suffice it to say, we’ll be back.

What did you learn from your experience at South by Southwest? Share with us on Twitter. #AdvertiseResponsibly