Digital Transformation Trade Bodies Creative Works

Small connections can lead to big things at SXSW

By Andy Sexton, Executive Creative Director



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March 27, 2024 | 8 min read

There's no place quite like SXSW, says Andy Sexton of 2LK. And the event was a reminder that Britain still leads the pack when it comes to creativity.

A message painted in black on a white brick wall reads 'you may get lost but not in the crowd'

The SXSW event brings together a diverse array of people, says Andy Sexton. / Andy Sexton

SXSW’s mission is simple: ‘Help creative people achieve their goals’. In the opening keynote, Hugh Forrest (SXSW Co-President) underlined this loud and clear, telling us that “the power of massive creativity is amplified significantly when people get together”. As a brand experience agency leader, I couldn’t agree more, and I’d guess the rest of SXSW’s 300,000 visitors rallied around this idea too. In a world of increasing levels of automation, face-to-face interaction proves to be unwaveringly effective.

Having represented the UK as part of the Department for Business and Trade's SXSW 2023 mission, this year 2LK supported them as alumni delegates – a fantastic way to stay part of the growing community and continue waving the flag for our exceptional creative industries.

The mission centres around UK House and, shared with the UK Advertising Export Group (AEG), this dedicated space within the festival served up a dynamic agenda of content, offered a hub for networking and showcased the best of British interactive innovation. By night the British Music Embassy (BME) took over, hosting over 60 incredible artists, including Skepta, Vulva Voce, Pauli the PSM, and The Lottery Winners.

The UK's creative industry accounts for 7% of our workforce and £150bn of GDP, while our digital immersive economy has grown 80% in 5 years. So, it's no surprise that UK House was bigger and better than ever before, bringing a community of over 100 British companies together to showcase their creativity and innovation to drive collaboration on a global scale.

I’ve spent my entire career creating branded activations at live events, and there is simply nowhere like SXSW. It's an endless stream of conversations with fascinating new people – you’ll meet authors, artists, investors, technologists, musicians, film-makers and psychedelic evangelists from all over the world, all day long.

A playground for the best creative talent

There’s a general sense of chaotic convergence as intersecting themes that shape our world are unpacked on countless stages across the city. It's a place for curious creative minds to stretch their muscles. The eclectic breadth of content is overwhelming: I learned about organoids, exaflop computing and chiplets. I explored the near-term reality of living to 400 years old by downloading our brains, watched a DJ with ALS mix tracks purely by eye movement, got mesmerised by AI reading and visualising a never-ending story, and saw a brand new Tesla Cybertruck.

Each year, SXSW calls upon its creative global community to help identify ground-breaking new ideas and the visionaries behind them. The majority of conference sessions are sourced and voted on by the SX community through a PanelPicker format. This unique approach to agenda building polls the audience for their key interest areas and serves up what's wanted. It's probably no surprise then that AI was deeply threaded into the programming, appearing in over 180 session titles.

The sessions are a treasure trove of insights. Sure there are some shitters in there, but there is gold too. People queued for 3 hours to get into Amy Webb’s featured panel, jostling to be the first to hear insights from her 17th SXSW featured session. As CEO of Future Today Institute and professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, Webb’s projections are an annual affair that help to simplify the complexities of tech’s impact on society and business.

She had this to say: “The world we interact and engage with and the industries we operate within are rapidly changing. We’re in an AI-fuelled tech super cycle. The wave of innovation that’s coming is so intense and so pervasive, it will literally reshape human existence.“ Frightening stuff, but learning where to play and how to win is key for so many of SX’s attendees. This is why they’re there.

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Brilliant creativity is one of the best British exports

You can feel the entrepreneurial energy pulsing through Austin's streets as panels, parties and pop-up events spread out for miles. It's a big, broad event, but being part of a trade mission is an amazing experience. It’s a shortcut to making your first 30 new SXSW friends and puts you among an extraordinary peer set who are pushing the boundaries. It acts as a salutary reminder of why you’re in this industry, and that brilliant creativity is still a huge British export.

Hugh Forrest’s closing remarks were to remind us that “small connections lead to big things.” You can feel that mindset at UK House and it's omnipresent throughout the city, as people connect to ideas, each other and the future – which is really what SXSW is all about.

Digital Transformation Trade Bodies Creative Works

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