A few years back I heard about South by SouthWest for the time. I did not really have any desire to go – it did not seem relevant to a health digierati like myself. Rather I thought it was more for film and music buffs and total techy geeks. I did not think there would be anything noteworthy for a marketer or a strategist, certainly not one specialised in healthcare.
Then last year my colleague Jackie Cuyvers told me what it was really like. She told me that this is where ground breaking technology gets showcased and where you can see the hottest tech innovation, including in healthcare. She told me also that it was one huge party and a massive networking opportunity. She also convinced me that this was THE event for someone like me to go – this would be one of the few events were I would really learn something, unlike the standard pharma digital conferences which tend to be a showcase of case studies rather than truly innovative thinking. I was convinced. I had to go – it made total business sense. I could bring those learnings and innovative ideas back to the company and back to our clients. It seemed so obvious that I asked the company if I could go.
No. That was the point-blank, no-discussion response I got. No. Well that would just not do! Now that I was all excited and convinced that this was indeed the event for me to attend I had to go. And I was going to go – even if it meant paying my own way and taking holiday. And this is what I did. Had I acted rashly, would this expensive excursion pay off? I was even having to fly with the dreadful American Airlines to get there and it wasn’t even a direct flight. Was the pain of flying AA really going to be worth it?
The answer is a loud, resounding YES! OMG YES! SXSW2015 turned out to be the most mind-blowingly amazing event. It was worth every penny. It was worth the AA flight with no personal video player (yes – can you believe that in this day and age there are still transatlantic flights where you have to watch the main screen in the cabin and where they do not show the latest films?!). SXSW2015 blew all my expectations.
Day one started with a longer than expected queue to sign up, followed by the first selfie of the event with Jackie and Google’s @happydezzie. I then went to a couple of interesting sessions including one on the ROI of Word Of Mouth (WOM) which presented some interesting findings on the impact WOM and social media on marketing, confirming the role social media plays but I had hoped it would go a little deeper than it did. Interesting but not yet mindblowing.
The next session however provided more of a “wow” factor as I heard about how technology and innovation are helping in the fight against Ebola. Besides some great new digital technology such as wearable, bluetooth enabled patch to track patients, there was also an amazing showcase of partnership and open innovation in the form of the new safety suits for healthcare workers fighting infectious diseases like Ebola. It was humbling to see the new prototype and hear just how unpleasant the current suits are for healthcare workers and it was fantastic to be present at the unveiling of the new suit.
The highlight of the day however was finally getting to meet @veronicabotet who I had met over Twitter via #hcsmeu years ago. It was fantastic to finally get to meet her in person and I was so happy when she was able to join Jackie and I (yes Jackie had also paid to come herself having faced the same solid NO from ZS) for dinner. We had a lovely evening, during which I learnt some new American terminology and ate some amazing Brazilian steak. I headed back to the hotel happy wondering what Day 2 would bring.