Pitching Yourself at SXSW

If you get two minutes of face time with the mentor or industry pioneer of your dreams, don't screw it up by committing a festival faux pas. There is an etiquette to chance encounters. How you approach networking opportunities says a lot about your personality and professionalism. 

John Pesina / Shutterstock.comJohn Pesina / Shutterstock.comWith more than 5,000 events and approximately 60,000 attendees from all sectors of the creative fields, the South By Southwest (SXSW) film, interactive, and music festival which kicks off March 8 to 17 in Austin, Texas, is a Mecca for students looking to break into the entertainment industry. To make the right connections, you don’t necessarily need to fork over cash for a platinum badge, but you will need to follow a few basic rules say the experts. Here’s how to network with mentors, employers, and creative partners at South By Southwest.

Entrepreneur seeking creative partner for the end of the world

Regardless of who you’re looking to connect with at SXSW, the first step is to make sure that you have something to show potential creative partners when networking opportunities arise says Jodi Jill, author of the e-book, Unofficial Survival Guide to South by SouthWest 2013. Before heading off to the festival, Jill recommends updating (or creating) an online portfolio that contains samples of the best work you’ve done in the past.

People use technology more at this show than at any show I’ve ever seen and it’s beneficial to have a first impression in the flesh, a second impression in digital and the first and second impressions need to match,” says Jill. “Don’t give 15 or 20 different links to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Have one link that you can hand someone and say ‘You can find all about me here.’ And then if they’re interested in you, they will go to all the other links, but you need to start with something that gives that digital representation of who you are in one place.”

Once you’ve got your own digital ducks in a row, research who you want to connect with. Even if you don’t buy a badge, the official SXSW schedule is a good place to start the hunt for your next creative partner. There you’ll find full bios on all the festival speakers and information on sponsored parties and lounges. After you’ve found a few people who you’d like to chat with, Jill recommends sending out e-mails to your creative targets and asking for some face time. If you can arrange a time to chat, make sure you’re ready.

You probably would want to bring, especially for a creative partner, some sort of portfolio on hand so you can show people what you have and your ideas so there’s more of an introduction,” says Jill.

If you don’t buy a SXSW badge, you can still catch your creative icons at the boatload of unofficial parties, workshops, and concerts happening throughout Austin. Here’s a fantastic list of SXSW interactive parties, but you can find information on unofficial music and film parties at RSVPster.com or by following @SXSWPartyList on Twitter.

Will Mitchell, a three time-SXSW attendee who’s landed several clients for his online marketing firm, Clear Presence Media, through savvy festival networking, also recommends using social media to research where your future creative partners are going to be.

A big thing is, we start a Twitter list now. We’ll add all of the people that we want to meet to a Twitter list and then we even have a secondary list of people that we wouldn’t mind meeting,” says Mitchell. “We have those so that any time we have some down time in Austin, we can just pull out our phones and see where the people we want to meet and network with are at.”

How you approach a future creative partner counts says Emily Hagins, a 20 year-old director who’s feature film, My Sucky Teen Romance, was picked up for distribution at SXSW in 2011. Her latest feature, Grow Up, Tony Phillips, will premier at this year’s festival.

I think that listening is the most important part of networking because people love to talk about themselves and they’ll like you more and more the more you’re willing to listen to what they have to say,” Hagins says.

Hagins also recommends “going to as many things as you can” to both large and small events and remembering that “opportunities come out of unexpected situations sometimes.”

Will work for competitive salary and attractive benefits package

 Those who are looking for a job in the video game or interactive fields should make a beeline for the festival’s Digital Creative Job Market, which is free and open to the public March 7th and 8th at the Palmer Events Center. Featuring representatives from Walt Disney Animation Studios, TripAdvisor, DIRECTV, Intel, and many more, the job fair is a quick and easy way to get inside information on who’s hiring.

I would definitely suggest, especially for students, to make sure they bring a resume, a portfolio with examples of what they’ve done, or demo reel. That way they can give them to the representatives right there on the floor as opposed to having to wait and e-mail it later,” says Matthew Crump, the SXSW gaming event coordinator and a former game developer with Electronic Arts. Crump adds that students should also be prepared to discuss their interests and how they’re preparing for the digital job market.

On top of the Digital Creative Job Market, the interactive portion of the festival also has a Startup Village for badge holders where entrepreneurs and digital creatives can mingle and learn about work opportunities.

For those who don’t have badges, meet-ups, parties, and pre-arranged coffee dates are also fertile ground for getting info on job leads as well as an insider’s glimpse into what working for a specific company is like says Mitchell, but approach with care. Major industry players are oftentimes inundated with requests, so it’s oftentimes best to find common ground first.

They’re going to be very turned off if someone comes up to them and says ‘Hey, I’m a huge fan of yours and can I have this job or do this internship?’ That’s just going to make them want turn away,” says Mitchell. “It’s OK to walk up to someone and just exchange a few sentences…and make plans to meet up later. That’s probably a better strategy in terms of long-term networking than trying to sell yourself on the first go-round. Make sure you try to be friends with people more than network with them. You want to build relationships.”

O Captain! My Captain!

 SXSW is so committed to helping newbies connect with mentors, it actually offers its own mentoring program. Through SXSW Mentors, those who are new to the entertainment arena can set up seven- to ten-minute one-on-one meetings with industry insiders like documentary filmmaker Paul Stekler and Franz de los Reyes, a digital marketing expert with Island Def Jam Music Group. The catch is that SXSW Mentors is only open to those who buy a badge.

If you don’t buy a badge, Jodi Jill recommends reaching out to potential mentors on your own, either through e-mail or by making in-person contact at panels or parties. When trying to set up a mentoring appointment, it makes sense to pass out business cards with your contact information, but bringing a wealth of promotional materials to the festival can backfire.

Another thing you have to remember is not to bring too much stuff to pass out. Everyone is trying to network,” she says. “You can end up carrying a whole suitcase home, so it’s really important to minimize what you bring and make sure it has maximum value whatever you pass out.”

Whether you’re seeking a mentor, employer or creative partner, the key to keeping a connection going after the festival has finished is following up.

Before you go you need to plan on how you’re going to follow up. Are you going to e-mail people or tweet them? Are you going to call them?,” she says. “That’s so important at this show because if you meet them and don’t follow up with them, it’s as good as not meeting them at all.” 


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