How marketers are making the best of SXSW and other events being canceled

"Although SXSW was canceled, we still want to get the story out surrounding our planned session."

One after another, events and conferences are being canceled due to the growing coronavirus epidemic, but marketers and agencies are still trying to find ways to have the show go on.

Campaign US asked a selection of adland insiders if - or how - the industry is following through on activations and events they had planned at SXSW and other conferences that have been axed or postponed due to COVID-19. See their responses below.

Kevin McNulty, President, CMO, Momentum Worldwide

I am sure that brands and agencies are considering virtual or digital solutions to reach their audience, deliver their messages and provide returns. But it’s a fact that while VR, AR, webcasts and the like can keep the message moving, they simply do not have nearly the same impact as a face-to-face experience. 

Our clients are some of the most dynamic, innovative marketers in the industry. They’ve come to rely on the role experiential plays in driving their business, so for Momentum, our counsel is all about postponement vs. cancellation. 

Again, we know there is nothing more powerful than personal, live experience, and our clients will be ready to restart these programs as soon as we hear the "all clear," which we all hope is sooner than later.

Laurent Ezekiel, Chief Marketing & Growth Officer, WPP

It’s fair to say it’s not quite business as usual in terms of events right now. We’re lucky as we are a creative transformation company – problem-solving on behalf of our clients, and the industry, is what we do. And there is no single solution.

We’re doing our part to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our people, partners and clients and exploring different ways to bring people together. For example, our MBA programme will now be online.

Our innovation camp Stream, which has always been referred to as WPP’s "Unconference," lends itself well to a variety of new formats, from intimate dinners to podcasts to online sessions and discussion groups. We are working with some of our WPP agencies (such as Hogarth & Deep Local) to help us deliver the best possible experience and we can’t discredit the virtual offerings of today.

Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom – these are all fantastic options for live-streaming events and hosting meetings online. Broadly, I expect we’ll see a lot more local activation, especially in the US, which to me is a great thing as it will bring us closer to new and different areas, people and ideas on which we can activate elsewhere.

Lynda Carrier-Metz, CMO, Austin Pizza Hut Franchise Organization

As soon as we heard the news of SXSW being cancelled, we called GSD&M and asked, "What can we do to help?" SXSW is such an important time for Austin businesses, musicians, and service industry folks, so we immediately felt the need to figure out a way to support them. For Pizza Hut, we felt we could contribute by sponsoring parties that are still happening and giving out discounts to the locals who were counting on this income this week.

Doug Chavez EVP, Digital Commerce & Media, North America, Geometry

The exchange of ideas at large events with people we don’t get to see every day is one aspect that makes these events so great. While we may not be able to meet in carbon form, our telepresence capability is quite good and will still enable us to exchange ideas and share thought leadership and meet with new people. Adapting to this new norm is a great way to show how we and this industry continually re-invent and evolve.

Melanie Shreffler, VP, Cassandra, an insights and cultural strategy group within Engine

Although SXSW was canceled, we still want to get the story out surrounding our planned session because the topic—the future of influencer marketing in an era of cancel culture and backlash—is clearly resonating within the industry. We're still hoping that SXSW will be rescheduled or provide a virtual online experience, but in the event it doesn’t go forward, we will be planning a virtual salon where we could open the conversation and go deeper on the issues.

Raquel Rosenthal, CEO, Digilant

With the cancellation of big industry events, including SXSX, Expo West and the Adobe Summit, brands, especially B2B, are seeing a challenge. Large portions of marketing budgets are invested to speak, exhibit and attend industry events, but not all opportunities should be lost. Brands that want to take concrete action should be thinking about how else they can reach their target audiences that attend these trade shows. For example, tapping into Dunn & Bradstreet data segments to power account-based marketing, and leverage data that analyzes job titles, allows brands to reach B2B audiences on LinkedIn and industry publications. For B2C brands, companies should take advantage of the recent drop in CPMs, to support brand awareness objectives, that were derailed due to event cancellations.

Olivia Baker, Account Supervisor, GSD&M

Within minutes of the announcement, Lynda Carrier-Metz, CMO of the Austin Pizza Hut Franchise Organization called to find out what Pizza Hut can do for the Austin community. It’s pretty incredible when a national brand like Pizza Hut understands local impact, and will go above and beyond to support. We’re working with Pizza Hut to provide discounts to musicians and service industry folks, and to sponsor events specifically for people who have been hit the hardest. There is nothing quite like people (and big corporations) joining the local community in a time of need and jumping in to help, no questions asked.

John Kaplan, Group Strategy Director, Centerline Digital

Overwhelmingly, yes. These events are hugely important to both business sales funnels and community building for brands, so now they are looking to find alternate solutions that work best for their specific goals. We're seeing a lot of conversations around what can be live versus pre-recorded in 'digital first' events. We've seen success with large format stage presentations that combine high-quality video of presenters on-stage with high-impact graphics, as well as adding entertainment value to webcasts by changing up the format. What's more difficult to solve for is replacing those spontaneous interactions and conversations that happen at live events. Brands that solve for this component when moving events to the digital space will stand out above those that don't.

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