Taking on SXSW

fun

My spring break was anything but ordinary.

I was selected as one of six students to go to SXSW with South Carolina’s College of Information and Communications! Talk about amazing!!! Okay, I guess that is a lot of exclamation points but seriously, it was that amazing. I’ll give you a day-by-day recap by sharing some tidbits from each adventure. It was an amazing conference and I will probably be talking about it for a long time.

Here’s the week:

Friday, March 9: Off to Austin

We headed to Austin around 11 a.m., flying out of Columbia with a layover in Charlotte. For the most part, the trip was smooth. The only hitch was we literally got the last 3 seats assigned on our flight from Charlotte to Austin. When we got to the gate, we didn’t have seats and had overbooked the flight. We were prepared to catch the next flight but thankfully they had volunteers who moved. I’ve never been the last person to walk on a flight so that was an experience. Once we landed in Austin around 3, we were all starving. We checked into our hotel, got dinner and checked into the conference. Once we got our badges we were ready — well, ready to go to sleep. You can see this entire day on a vlog for the college. Check out the vlog here.
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Saturday, March 10: “I can’t believe we’re here”

After getting our fill of coffee and croissants from a part grocery store/part breakfast bar, we started the trek to our first sessions. SXSW is so big the Austin Convention Center, despite being huge, can’t hold all of it. So SXSW sessions arw sprawled into the outlying areas around downtown Austin.

My first session of the conference was about coding being creative in websites, apps, programs, etc. It was amazing to learn and see people saying designers should be given freedom to create. When designers and creators experiment, it usually leads to innovation.

My next session was about how beauty companies are adapting to augmented reality and artificial intelligence technology. This session was presented by the company Perfect Corp, a company with apps that include makeup try-ons, hair color, skin wellness and plenty of other things. Obviously I am a big fan of all things beauty, so I had to go to this session. I have always heard of makeup apps but have never used them. Going to this session made me want to experiment with them some and write a post about my experience. It honestly made me excited for the beauty world because the things they are creating right now are awesome.

Another session that spoke to me was about marketing for a visual world. This was presented by Killer Infographics, based out of Seattle, and Story Driven, based out of Raleigh. They shared tips they’ve learned when it comes to marketing in today’s society. I will definitely be taking these back to the J-School. Side note, Killer Infographics is a visual communications company and I am a visual communications major. So, uh, Killer Infographics, are you hiring?

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Sunday, March 11: What day is it?

By Sunday I was just very confused as to what day it was but this day had a huge keynote! Melinda Gates hosted a panel with Stacy Brown-Philpot from TaskRabbit, Joanna Coles from Hearst Magazines and Nina Shaw from Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano.

It was so encouraging to hear them talk about how to make a creative and inclusive work space. Some major points they focused on were that now is the time to make the change. We need to band together, men and women. Think about how you can hold everyone in the workplace accountable. We need to be allies to all workers.

Being a journalism nerd at heart, I opted to listen in on an investigative journalism session later in the day. I love the aspect of investigative journalism and hearing from Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold about his coverage of President Donald Trump fascinated me even more. The stories he told about how he acquired data was enthralling. A lot of times, social media has helped him find answers for articles he was writing, showing how powerful social media is these days. The power of the crowd is amazing.

You can’t go to Texas and not get barbecue, right? We saved that for Sunday, hitting up a local spot called Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. I had brisket and two servings of mac and cheese (yes, I did eat it all). It. Was. Delicious. Although, it still doesn’t hold a candle to South Carolina pulled pork.

A fun bit from Sunday was we got to meet up with the Mayor of Columbia, Steve Benjamin We saw he was at SXSW with the United States Conference of Mayors and we chatted some about the sessions we had been to and what we thought about Austin. It was great to see a familiar face in Austin.

 

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Monday, March 12: Exploring Austin

Monday afternoon the sessions hit a small lull, so we decided to explore Austin. A few of us took a bus tour around the city. It was so fun to learn about what Austin has to offer, the history and sight see. There’s something oddly satisfying about experiencing new places and being touristy. One of our professors on the trip had a colleague who is getting his doctorate in visual communications at the University of Texas so he showed us around the journalism school. It was cool to see another school’s way of doing things.

We ate at one of the many phenomenal taco places around Texas: Torchy’s Tacos. Honestly, the tacos were so good that I dreamed about them for the next day. We then checked out the Graffiti wall, a public wall that tourists and locals come to daily covered in graffiti art. It made for really cool pictures and an amazing view of the city. Going provided a great mental break from the all the learning from the sessions.

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Tuesday, March 13: Last day, sad day

Part of me couldn’t believe this was our last day but the other part of me knows I would’ve been exhausted if it was any longer. We filled this day with sessions and exploring different events around SXSW.

I attended another session about beauty focusing on marketing to GenZ. It was a panel with Pixabilitiy’s Tammy Johnson, Benefit Cosmetics’ Emily Dybwad, Jennifer Tidy from ModiFace and Dan Grossman from Snap. It explored the new ways that beauty brands are catering to GenZ. For instance, in January, Benefit launched a brow try-on experience. It was cool to see different ways brands are marketing now with augmented reality and virtual reality experiences.

One of my final sessions and experiences of the week was attending a talk about Getty Images trying to improve their visual representation. One of the stalwarts in photojournalism is actively trying to improve their diversity and realness in their images. This panel was very inspiring and I applaud Getty Images for the improvements.

Our trip was jammed pack with information, food and fun. I seriously learned so much and going back to USC I feel so empowered. These recaps are just part of the full days.

In addition to all that I mentioned above, here are other fun events we did.

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Houses

There were many different houses sponsored by different companies designed to show off new products and cater to the technological-minded group that SXSW draws. We got to go to a Dell Experience where they showcased their new computer, which is rose gold by the way.

We went to a Twitter House, Google House and more. All these houses had free swag and amazing tech setups. We even got to go to a house sponsored by Quaker Oats, educating conference-goers about being more mindful of food waste. They had delicious food that all incorporated oats in some way.

Overall I saw that the big topics of SXSW were about adapting AR, VR and IR; reaching GenZ and millennials, as well as diversifying your workplace. I think all of these things are so relevant in today’s society. I expect to see a lot of new technology start to be adapted into everyday life soon. It already is a lot and most don’t even know it (think Snapchat, maps and technology already found on your phone).

Another cool conference experience was all the people we met and networked with. The great thing about SXSW is everyone’s there to learn and everyone loves to meet new people. I met people from Arizona, Germany, Brazil, Boston, England and California. It was fun to see the different companies everyone worked for and to hear why they came to SXSW. In one session I even sat by two ladies who worked for the Toyota Canada Marketing Department. Talk about cool.

I want to thank the College of Information and Communications and Chernoff Newman for sponsoring this trip. Without them, I know I would never be able to do this. I learned so much and know I am coming back a better student from this conference.

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