Top Learnings at SXSW

In addition to my responsibilities at Cuneo Advertising, I ‘m also a board member for the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA). As part of that responsibility, I was afforded the opportunity to check off a career milestone: Attend the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) Conference. Albeit virtually this year, it’s an incredible place to learn from some of the best in our industry and see what’s coming down the line for those of us on the front lines. Unfortunately, no Austin BBQ was available for me, but the insights I gleaned were just as mouth-watering!

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a VERB, not a NOUN

I attended several panels and sessions that discussed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). What stood out most to me is an overwhelming acknowledgment that DEI is not a noun – it’s not a thing, a name, a stoic element. It should be a verb. Verbs are action words, and actions can be practiced and made routine. It’s one of the things our industry has the power to embrace and emphasize.

When we’re working with clients, how can we ensure diverse representation in what we produce? In the things we execute, deploy, shoot and put on air? How can we deliver meaningful changes through photography, talent selection and other visual contexts that help our clients demonstrate they also recognize and value their diverse audiences? How do we challenge them to keep this at the forefront of their brands, but also play their part in the action? We have a unique opportunity as an industry to lead these changes and it begins by recognizing this concept not as a noun – but that we act as a verb.

Be Asymmetric

Don’t do what’s been done before because it worked then. Don’t be beholden to what used to be important. Now is the perfect time to reevaluate what’s important to you, your brand, or your agency and use that as a foundation for finding new, even off-the-beaten-path ways to accomplish what’s most critical to you.

Let me explain: Several stories, from some extraordinary people, led me to believe we can all do a better job, up-front, of outlining necessities vs. nice-to-haves. A number of uncommon, but just as effective, paths to success open up for us and our clients when we prioritize this way. Identifying the ultimate goal, the true KPI, is critical to allowing us the space and flexibility to do our best work, and to do that work as efficiently as possible.

Say you’re trying to get a book published (as one keynote speaker shared). What matters most to you? The story? Simply being published and being able to have that validation of your work? Where are you willing to compromise and what can’t be sacrificed? As this author found, adapting her book from a spy thriller to a love story did just the trick, “and I got to kill off just as many people,” she said! Her initial rejection forced her to contemplate the end goal and reframe the opportunity. She found a less common, but more efficient path to success that may have been light years better than what she had done previously.

Say your organization lives and dies by volume of sales leads, and the majority of those leads trace back to TV spots you’ve been running. Your conclusion might be, “we want to get more leads, and we think we should get them out of TV.” Pause for a moment: What you really want is just more leads at the same or higher quality than your TV-based leads. Perhaps TV plays a part in that, but the true goal is “We need leads to be at least X+1 next month and we need to do it for the same budget we’ve been using.”

Rather than relying on what’s been done before just because it worked then, you change the conversation by reframing the opportunity. Ask, “how can we get more leads, with an entire ocean of tactics to execute, where should we go from here?”

Understand Your True Value

I’m a huge sports guy, so I attended a panel about sports and media, and the changing landscape they’re facing. During the pandemic, you’d think people would lap up whatever live content they could find to retain some normalcy, however, ratings for many live events have been down. Does that mean that sports, the awards scene, and live entertainment are dead or need to make drastic changes? No, not even close.

It means they need to re-evaluate and get even clearer on what they truly offer and how customers are demanding it be offered. One major professional league, for instance, realized that what they sell is access to a series of moments. In some cases, it isn’t the entire game or event itself. Every single play, every single out, every single down isn’t important. Rather, it’s the significant micro-moments – the dunks, the touchdowns, the incredible catches and saves – that resonate most with the audience. Realizing where your true value to the customer lies is a fairly massive, watershed-type moment for any brand, and sports and entertainment entities are no exception. In fact, sports properties have been at the forefront of uncovering a new market within entertainment.

So what have they done as a result of that A-HA moment? They made it easy for an economy to grow around highlights and activated their social channels to push those moments far and wide. Why is this relevant? Simple: The league was honest and introspective enough to truly dig deep into what it is about their sport that attracts and retains people. Instead of making drastic changes like adjusting rules or other bedrock elements to try to keep attendance and interest up, they pivoted and chose to add different delivery methods.


And more privacy. This complex reality is part of our everyday life – as advertisers and normal consumers. Ask Apple, Firefox, or Google Chrome users – all have made significant moves and/or are continuing to make moves designed to increase consumer confidence in their data privacy practices.

Google’s move on Chrome helps promote privacy by pulling support for third party cookies. In short, Google is following the precedent set by other browsers and making it harder for user browsing data to be tracked. To everyday users, it likely means improved privacy while online. To advertisers, it means that ad targeting is likely going to get more challenging.

The pandemic itself has surfaced several issues around data privacy. Is your employer allowed to ask if you’ve received a vaccination? Should they be? Can a sports stadium or concert venue refuse you entry if you’re not vaccinated? Should they be allowed to? What about airlines? And how would data be shared to enable any of those scenarios? Where would we draw the line for what data can and cannot, or should and should not, be shared?

None of these scenarios have a quick answer, but we can be proactive and responsible in our own work to ensure we’re doing right by the customer. Take some time and think hard about what data your company uses or what data your agency has access to, to evaluate and steward how that data is being employed and shared. We all want to ensure we are working with the best data available to make informed decisions, but we also must be accountable and prevent our customers from being exposed in the process. We have a responsibility to our brands and clients, too, to continue to make sure we get them in front of customers and do so as efficiently as possible. That means we need to be working hard right now to put scalable, flexible methods of getting high-quality data into place before we lose the tools we’ve relied on so much in the next few years.

‘Til next time!



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