SXSW Brings an Innovative Marketing Look to Chicago

Brian C. Lowe headshot

Brian C. Lowe
Staff Writer and Copy Editor

Published March 5, 2013

What would it be worth to you to have 300 excited, engaged professionals listening to your firm’s message and services while interacting with your team?  And how would that value proposition shift if you can cement your public image in the community as fun, generous, collaborative, and outgoing?  Simple Truth, Onward Search, Nansen, The Onion, EPIC, Sailor Jerry’s, and Kim & Scott’s Crave Bar teamed up with SXSW on Monday 25 February to find out for themselves in the inaugural SXSW CHI Pregame.

This model would hardly seem a stretch for a company like Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), which regularly sponsors events like festivals and special bar nights with merchandise giveaways, specials on new offerings, et cetera, but the offerings on display Monday at Chicago’s Double Door represented a vision shift for forward-thinking firms looking to gain visibility and marketing clout in the burgeoning 21st-century competitive atmosphere.

As the uncommonly clear sky darkened over Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, businesspeople of a wide swath of ages and stations gathered in the expansive hall of the iconic Double Door, donned name tags, and joined in an event that would have appeared to a person walking in at various times as, by turns, an upbeat concert, a marketing seminar with an innovative venue, or an after-hours business networking event.

Complete with catering by ManBQue and Kim & Scott’s, drinks from Sailor Jerry’s, sets from Aly Jados, Suns, and Ballroom Boxer, a photo wall, and a 5’x8’ projection screen, the 3.5 hour session offered plenty to entertain attendees between speakers.  And this was certainly intentional.  Onward Search team members in company t-shirts took and posed for photos of and with attendees, while socializing and passing out buttons.

Cloud computing and social networking sites have been fully embraced by marketing professionals looking to expand their ease of access and their brand’s mind-share propositions. There is no dearth of web seminars, business association meetings, and new “essential” books offering tips, tricks, and advice on how best to maximize your marketing strength and wield your resources more efficiently.  Most companies have had to try to do more with less in recent years with very few markets being immune to the financial squeeze of the recession.  Scott Holstein, of Kim & Scott’s fame, was on hand handing out his new Crave Bars—ice cream bars on pretzel sticks inspired by the hammer from the 1984 Apple commercial—which are not sold in stores due to marginal issues, but instead exclusively at events like Ravinia and SXSW.

Event coordinator Mike Altier cited a commitment to the vision of bringing a piece of Austin to Chicago, and communication and honesty between sponsors as key to the Pregame’s success.  “Double Door was perfect because of the location, wood floors, eccentric paintings and overall live music atmosphere. It really felt like SX to us,” said Altier.  Creating a compelling atmosphere is often the difference between a successful promotional event and a complete flop.  Marketing professionals should be advised that attention to detail is always key to branding success.

While it may not be in your marketing budget to pull off an event like this by yourself, finding partners with similar aims and audiences to coordinate with is a fresh approach, and may yield better results than the latest search engine optimization of your website.  More importantly, building good-will equity within a community and a customer base is good corporate strategy for the short and the long terms.  Sometimes the best barometer isn’t how many eyes see your marketing message.  Sometimes it’s how many hearts and minds do.