For marketers, March means one thing: SXSW Interactive – a meeting of minds for brand builders, creators, and innovators. This year is shaping up to be as exciting as ever with panels on everything from the future of the brand-agency relationship, to podcast advertising, to building a brand that “does good.” So before you touch-down in Texas, we’ve collected some best advice from some of our own who have conquered SX in years past. We’ll be at SXSW this year hosting a series of fun and engaging events for marketers – scroll to the end of the post to find out more or drop us a line on Twitter.

Have a plan, be prepared

“There’s so much happening at SXSW, and so many people talking about the coolest thing you’re currently missing, it’s sometimes compared to an old radio. You keep turning the knob but never fully hear the music. Don’t let that be your story. Plan your day around a couple key events, attend them, and then float around in between.” —Luke Abbott, Senior Director, Sales, eight-time SXSW veteran

The truth is that you’ll never be able to experience all of South By. So leave the FOMO at the airport and concentrate on fulfilling specific, achievable goals and enjoying the time in between. The SXSW website allows attendees to build their own schedules, so you can easily select the cadence of panels and meet-ups that work for you. 

This goes without saying in 2017, but for long days in the Austin heat a solid back-up phone charger and sizeable water bottle are essentials for staying on the go. “It’s easier to find free beer than water. Keep a reusable water bottle on you to stay hydrated,” is Joy Andrada, Event Marketing Manager’s pro tip. Also, plan for sudden changes in weather – we recommend you dress in layers and carry an umbrella.

Be sure to plan how you’re going to get around town (and be sure your schedule accommodates for travel time). Austin is a pretty small town, so don’t bother with a car rental unless you’re staying outside the city.  You might have heard that Uber and Lyft are a no-go. Fear not, local ride-sharing apps Ride Austin and Fasten are viable alternatives – or grab a good old-fashioned taxi. For a environmentally and heart-friendly option – you could rent a bike. Other alternatives include Chariot, a new shuttle service around downtown or (during SX only) grab a free ride from Mazda. If you want to “do as the Romans do,” hop on Austin’s public transit system, CapMetro.

Step out of your comfort zone

Go to at least one panel on a subject you know nothing about. Get out of your digital bubble and dare to dabble in AR, Blockchain Technology, IoT, Machine Learning, etc. Your brain will thank you and the sound bites are great conversation starters for all the randos you’re sure to meet on the ground. Be prepared to wait in line for popular keynotes. They fill-up fast!” – Joy Andrada, Event Marketing Manager

Check out the SXSW conference schedule – pick the events that make sense for your brand and job, but make sure you leave room for at least one out-of-the-box experience. While it’s great to use the conference as an opportunity to develop your marketing skills – we know that some of the most successful and innovative marketers are those that think and learn outside their discipline. SXSW is a perfect opportunity to gain insights that will change they way you think about your job and the world.

Some of the best events aren’t events at all

“The best place to spend downtime is the back lawn of the Four Seasons, if it’s a sunny day. It’s an oasis on the river with everything you need, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to run into a least a few marketers you know.” –Ian Hopping, VP, Sales, five-time SXSW Veteran

At a conference like SXSW, how you spend your downtime is just as important as the panels you attend – some of the most fulfilling and productive experiences can happen in between sessions, after hours, or by happenstance rather than design. People from all over the world will be flooding Austin – it’s a rare opportunity to connect with marketing and tech innovators from all walks of life. The conference includes many planned meet-ups and networking events, as well a host of sponsored parties and unofficial gatherings that are as good a time as any to forge connections both professional and personal. Be sure to stock up on cash and small bills to tip bartenders and service people at free and sponsored events.

Six-time SXSW veteran and Percolate Account Executive Gabe Brosbe recommends you ditch the business cards for this particular conference – “they get lost, thrown out, and forgotten. If you meet someone of note, ask them for their email and send them an email right then and there with the context of how you met in the subject line. That way when you get home, you already have an easy way to follow-up and get the conversation started.”

Fuel up

If you’ve heard of SXSW, you’ve probably also heard about the food. Austin is a culinary capital all year round – but during festival season the selection can be particularly overwhelming and the most popular spots, particularly crowded. We recommend you do your research ahead of time and prioritize what you most want to try.

“A lot of people go crazy for Franklin BBQ, but you didn’t come to Austin to stand in line for hours. Black’s is a phenomenal alternative, with no wait and a brisket so good you might cancel your return flight,” recommends Gabe. Besides BBQ, tacos are a hot topic at SX every year. “My favorite is Veracruz,” says Gabe. “But I also love Torchy’s & Tacodeli.”

Looking for a great place grab drinks? Take a walk down Sixth Street to catch some live music over a beer. Or we recommend checking out Midnight Cowboy or Half Step for cocktails. For a casual, divey-vibe grab a round at HandleBar, Dive Bar & Lounge, or Yellow Jacket Social Club.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track when it comes to food and drink – a trip outside of the bustle of downtown can not only be a fulfilling culinary experience, but a distinct, memorable adventure to have with your clients or new connections. “If you are looking to schedule client dinners, there are a lot of great restaurants in East Austin that are less likely to be crushed than the places around the downtown center. Great neighborhood for drinks following,” says Gabe.

Physically full but hungry for more? Consider attending a panel about online food culture.

Don’t miss Percolate at SXSW

Percolate Run Club will meet at Jo’s Coffee on Saturday (3/12) and Sunday (3/13) at 8:30 am. Led by our VP, Marketing Chris Bolman, this is a great time to informally meet (and run) with us.

We’re also hosting a party on Saturday afternoon at Max’s Wine Dive. Attendance is limited – If you’re a Percolate client, partner, or friend, please reach out to your Percolate account executive or account manager soon to get your invite.