Does The Party Drive Results: Why Companies Are Second-Guessing The Value of SxSW and Cannes

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

By SummitSync


Who doesn’t love a good festival? The music, the parties, the random encounters. They make for a great set of memories.

What happens when you smash, say, a music festival with digital concepts that are becoming part of the commercial zeitgeist?

Boom! You get SXSW.

Now smash a bunch of ad creatives enjoying the French Riviera while celebrating the best of advertising for the year with big brands and budgets. Welcome to the evolution of Cannes Lions.

It’s been a trend for the last ten years — mixing the millennial mantras of fun and freedom into a business environment.

Sounds great, right?

But, at the end of the day, companies are paying to send their employees to these events that are an undeniable mix of fun and festivities with a dose of business impact.

And it’s not looking so good.

Agencies are pulling out of events like Cannes and, more recently, SXSW. These large tentpole events have been the go-to events, attracting the top brands in marketing, media, and technology over the last decade in addition to their core audience. But as they’ve gotten bigger, brands and agencies aren’t seeing the ROI.


Digiday recently wrote about the trend, in an article titled ‘*It lost its community of innovation’: Why agencies are skipping SXSW this year*. The piece hints at a few reasons for the change of heart. Jeffrey Hinz, managing director at MediaCom, says SXSW is “too crowded” while Doug Rozen, chief digital innovation officer at OMD, stated “it began to get more corporate. The intention of SXSW was always for the people versus these corporate presences.”

Are these events really too crowded and corporate?

Or is there something else going on entirely?

We believe it’s the latter, here’s why.

It’s Harder to Make a Lasting Impression

In 2017, SXSW stated that “direct participation in SXSWeek totaled approximately 421,900.”

How do you stand out in a massive crowd of 150,000 people?

If you’re Snapchat, you put up a giant ferris wheel. If you’re Google Home, you make sure your branding is everywhere.

And, if you’re like the rest of the companies with big budgets to fund what might be line items for ‘engagement opportunities’, you host a party.

Don’t get us wrong, we love a good party. But, do they really work?

If you’re going for brand awareness at events, maybe.

But let me ask you a few more questions before you make the jump to host a big party at SXSW or Cannes Lions.

I mean, when was the last time you signed a contract because you attended a great party thrown by the brand? Did they even follow up with you after the big event? Do you even know who threw that amazing party at SXSW last year?

We didn’t think so.

Scaling Down Impressions Means Scaling Up Interactions

If impression-based advertising is dead, account-based marketing is thriving.

While these terms may not have previously been used to describe events, we believe it’s a perfect reflection of the market. Instead of using the “spray and pray” technique at events (try and garner as much “attention” as possible), companies are now targeting the exact prospects and clients they want to meet with at every event.

Companies are shifting from hosting large events to more targeted, focused events like one-to-one meetings, multi-client dinners, and offsite events where exclusive invites are sent.

This year, teams are focused on getting the most out of every interaction with prospects and clients versus trying to have as many brand impressions as possible. Look at ways you can tap into your client’s wants and needs through experiences and opportunities only available there.

One example is companies like MapAnything finding new ways to bond with their teams, prospects, and clients through modern workouts like barre and yoga.

Companies are moving towards new ways to deeper connect with their clients and prospects.Companies are moving towards new ways to deeper connect with their clients and prospects.

Where’s the ROI?

It’s a question every CMO faces. And, with the shortest tenure of the c-suite, it’s one they need to have answers to.

According to a MarketingProfs study, 70% of marketers say that the most common metric to judge event ROI is the amount of media exposure they generate and less than 50% of marketers have a standardized process to measure event sponsorship. There’s a huge opportunity for marketers to really nail down their conference and trade show marketing strategy. Event marketing shouldn’t be a guessing game, and marketers are beginning to have the tools to make these smarter, more granular event decisions to further drive ROI.

Take the time to plan for event success and have a concrete way to measure not only the monetary ROI of event marketing but the tangential benefits like partnerships gained and new team learnings.

A Renewed Focus on Meetings, Not Generating Impressions

“When events get this big, brands either go all-in building out full installations like Google or pull back to doing dinners, one-on-one meetings, and simple entertainment. This requires a smaller team on the ground,” said John Baker, CMO at Mirum, a WPP-owned agency in the same Digiday article mentioned above.

Most brands aren’t Google or Snapchat — which means most event marketing budgets aren’t either. Instead of the “go big or go home” mentality that many brands take with events, try focusing on the individual attendees you want to target.

Months before the event starts, start figuring out how you’re going to reach the people you want to meet with. Whether it’s using SummitSync, paid social campaigns, or picking up the phone — this year is all about the one-to-one.

When your team is focused on one-to-one meetings you can make sure you’re going deep with each relationship. Focus on being an inch wide and a mile deep with every meeting — meaning if your prospect likes jazz music, take him out to a piano bar. By focusing on one-to-one meetings, your team can personalize every interaction.

At the end of the day, time is money — for both you and your prospect. Even if you attend large events like SXSW or Cannes, focusing on being valuable and memorable with one-to-one meetings rather than big and splashy can help you drive a return.

When is the Time for a Big Celebration?

While we have just explained the value of going small at conferences and trade shows, there can still be a time for big networking parties and events.

Big events are great for brands who:

  • Are already pretty established and are focused on building their brand value — e.g. showing their strength and success after a good year

  • Launching a new major feature/product addition and are looking to garner press.

Our CEO, John Corrigan, mentioned another way brands might use these big events. He likes to call it the “carrot on a stick” approach that combines meeting one-on-one and these big events where teams can use individual meetings as a lure to get a ticket to the big event.

Big networking events and parties have, in a sense, been impression-based — you’re paying for eyeballs to glance over your brand’s name on an invite, at the entrance, and maybe the DJ hyping you up a few times.

If your team is set on hosting a big event, focus on being memorable and fun while having a strategy to collect attendee information during the event so you can follow up after.

Time’s Up for the Event Boondoggle

Whether you’re attending these events or not, trade show and event marketing are shifting from these massive events to more personalized experiences.

With events making up the largest percentage of overall B2B marketing budgets, it’s an exciting time for teams to begin understanding how to optimize their conference and trade show marketing spend. Focus on how your team can maximize their time at events like SXSW and Cannes by emphasizing value, not impressions.

Free Ebook: Drive More Revenue at Conferences and Trade Shows

Learn how to book more and better meetings with the right prospects, so you can close more sales at the show and maximize your event ROI.