Know Before You Go: Top 5 SXSW Interactive Themes

This is where the wired meet the weird. For two weeks in March, Austin, Texas becomes the crowded hub of all things tech, start-up and creative for the SXSW Interactive, Film and Music festival. Here, entrepreneurs, tech gurus and content creators blend with artists, musicians and actors to learn and collaborate in today’s creative economy. Oh, and there’s free beer and swag too.

The SUCCESS team will live tweet March 13-17 news and photos from Austin, Texas, including highlights from keynotes, small business tips and exclusive interviews. Follow @ShelbySkrhak and @Josh_Ellis11 on Twitter for our updates.

With thousands of official sessions and hundreds more unofficial brand-sponsored programs to choose from, here are five trends to watch at this year's SXSW Interactive.

1. How Retailers Can Be Better Marketers

Brands such as Stitch Fix and Rent the Runway have changed the way consumers shop by changing the way retailers market. Sephora’s CMO Julie Bornstein, Stitch Fix’s Katrina Lake and Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman will discuss leveraging tech and platforms to build personal connections with customers at their session, “Defining the Next Generation Retail Experience.”

Sessions such as “10 Inventions That Will Revolutionize Retail” and “Retail Tech: What Does the Future Have In-Store?” are part of SXSW Interactive’s parallel fashion programming, SXStyle. Notable names and brands in this theme include eBay, Target, Rebecca Minkoff, and Levi Strauss.

2. How Marketers Can Be More Like Content Creators

It seems consumers can smell marketing-speak a mile away, so innovative brands and agencies are connecting with their customers with a whole new toolbox of tactics: personalized, interactive, entertaining content. In the session “Content Marketing vs. Don Draper: The End of Ads,” execs from GE, L’Oreal and Dell will share their wins in branded entertainment, viral video, native advertising and social media.

Other noteworthy (and cinematically titled) sessions include "Back to the Future of Media" with Thrillist's Ben Lerer and "Brand and Deliver: Creating Custom Branded Content" with College Humor's Luke Simmons.

3. How Content Creators Can Be More Like Creatives

They say content is king, but that doesn’t mean content creators have any room to get comfortable. TV is no longer just for TV. Original series on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Yahoo Screen are forcing the entertainment industry out of the proverbial television box. Despite its dedicated fanbase, the NBC series Community never led the ratings race on network television, so they changed the channel, or rather, the platform. Writer Dan Harmon and lead actor Joel McHale of Community will discuss their upcoming season 6 debut on Yahoo! March 17 in the session “The Cast of Community on Moving to Digital.”

Oh, and there's a session on "Virtual Reality Journalism" with agencies Secret Location and Pyedog Productions, and Vice News editor in chief Jason Mojica. Are you ready for VR SUCCESS? Give us time; we’re hatching a new for you first.

4. How Creatives Can Thrive in the Gig Culture

Ready to hack your career? Malcolm Gladwell can help you with that. The New Yorker writer will sit down with venture capitalist Bill Gurley to discuss “economic and entrepreneurial outliers” for the new gig economy in this featured session.  

In addition to sessions such as “A New Generation: Creativity and Open Source” and “The Rise of the Creative Economy,” check out the SXSW Job Market running Friday and Saturday March 13-14, which is free and open to the public.

5. How the Digital Evolution Makes Everything Awesome

Here’s the stuff that’ll make news of the weird headlines: A robot petting farm, a 3-D printed (and edible) Oreo cookie and “Hamburger Helper is My Bae” to name a few. Keep an eye out for a mobile Kwik-e-Mart from The Simpsons, a DJ that'll mix EDM to her heartrate with a stethoscope, and a vending machine of Mother Bates' brownies at the Bates Hotel.


Want more? Here are a few great guides to check out: and MDC Partners’ Best of SXSW Guide for 2015 or the MSL Group’s Insider Guide to SXSW.


Journalist, podcaster and southpaw Shelby Skrhak is the former director of digital content and social media for Before joining SUCCESS magazine, Shelby launched the weekly suburban newspaper Plano Insider, and covered topics ranging from cops and courts to transportation and fashion. Her handwriting should be a font.

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