5 dos and 4 don’ts for SXSWi … or any other conference or tradeshow

My collection of #SXSWi pieces of flair.

My collection of #SXSWi pieces of flair. Click the image to see more SXSWi pics on Facebook!

I was fortunate to represent Bulbstorm at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) this year. I spent my time collecting pieces of flair, tweeting, rocking the orange hoodie, checking in, gazing at name badges, and generally just being a social media douschebag. Oh, and I worked some.

I learned some stuff about conference-going too. So, here are 5 dos and 4 don’ts for SXSWi … or whatever conference you attend next.

Do play with the next big thing (#TWSS). SXSWi catapults shiny objects into public awareness. First, it was Twitter. Then, it was Foursquare and Gowalla. This year, it’s group messaging. On day 1, someone started a Beluga “pod” for Phoenix SXSWi-ers. By day 3, the pod was shrinking. Early adoption. Early abandonment. Hey, at least, Facebook is impressed with Beluga.

Don’t be a wall flower. SXSWi is spring break for geeks. So, go for it! I played in the Lego lounge. I sang karaoke in the Foursquare RV. I collected pins. I got my picture taken with a guy dressed up as a T-Rex. I tweeted way too much. Tally ho!

Do pitch a VC. Everyone has a tech startup, right? I don’t know how many times I overheard some variation of “We just launched in private beta yesterday.” If you have a more compelling story to tell than that, then find a VC and pitch him. I went all Sean Parker on a VC from San Francisco and felt like a million bucks for doing it.

Don’t look too far below the neckline. I like to know who’s walking toward me. Hey, maybe he runs Facebook promotions for a big CPG brand! That’s the point of name badges, right? Yes, but be careful. Badge-gazing is like dropping your eyes too far below the neckline at a meet market. Don’t be that guy. Or, just don’t get caught … as I was.

Do re-charge your iPhone. Bring a charger or sit at a sponsored charging station every day. One night, my phone died while coordinating with my CEO. Oops! Fortunately, there were 15,000 Twitter-ers within a half-mile of me. Thanks to Reid Peifer for helping me let the boss know not to wait up.

Don’t be afraid to couch-surf if necessary. It’s worth it to spend an extra night in Austin. Thanks to Merry Lake and Meghan Skiff for making room!

Do fly 900 miles to hang with people from your hometown. When my CEO was out doing the CEO thing, I flew solo. Fortunately, my Phoenix pod welcomed me in. Big ups to Sitewire-ians for clarifying the pronunciation of pecan, McMurry-ites for showing me to the free ice cream, and Integrum-ers for knowing all the Austin hot spots.

But don’t only hang with your hometown crew. Conferences are a great chance to meet Tweeps who you only know as @whatshisname. Plus, random conversations turn up pretty cool stuff. For example, Deborah Acosta is using a database of Miami Herald readers to help her journalists find sources.

Do plan ahead. I missed scheduled appearances by Rainn Wilson, TV on the Radio, and Jay from 40-Year-Old Virgin because I didn’t plan. SXSWi is too big and too spread out to play it by ear. Luckily, I learned the error of my ways before I started hitting sessions on Days 4 and 5. Oh, and my best celebrity sighting? Rick effing Fox. He was eating a turkey sandwich.

When you play it too loose at SXSWi, you end up walking too much, standing in too many lines, and wondering where the hell your Beluga pod is.

What are your conference and tradeshow dos and don’ts?

Rework from 37signals: Daily Meditations for Entrepreneurs and Startup Employees

Back of business book Rework.

The back cover of Rework. I disagree with their bite-sized take on meeting, but different strokes.

My introduction to Rework came in a Facebook status update. “I insist that you read REWORK, from the founders of 37signals,” my teammate Dwight Knowlton wrote. “I’m a third of the way in and inspired.”

He nailed it.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t feeling Rework at first. I like my business books to be nice and meaty like, say, Built to Last. Rework is definitely not a 10 on the Inc. rigor rating.

But Rework is filled with bite-sized morsels of business wisdom – particularly for someone working in a tech startup like Bulbstorm. And it left me properly inspired to post my first blog entry in nearly three months!

Now, on with the morsels:

  • On lean product design: “Constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Be a curator. Stick to what’s truly essential.”
  • On productivity: “Those taps on the shoulder and little impromptu get-togethers may seem harmless, but they’re actually corrosive to productivity. Interruption is not collaboration, it’s just interruption.”
  • On meetings: “Invite as few people as possible, always have a clear agenda, [and] end with a solution and make someone responsible for implementing it.”
  • On constraints: “Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make due with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.”
  • On getting to market: “Put off anything you don’t need for launch. If you really think about it, there’s a whole lot you don’t need on day one.”

I read from a daily meditations book every morning. Nothing too meaty. Just 100-or-so words from the author plus 40-or-so words of my own scribbled at the bottom of each page.

That’s how I think one should read Rework. It’s not a rigorous examination of the ins and outs of business. It’s more of a daily meditation book for entrepreneurs and startup employees. It provokes enough thought to push buttons without overwhelming the already-taxed mind.

Read one passage every morning and spend five minutes reflecting. Perhaps, like my teammate Dwight, you’ll be inspired too.

So, what’s your favorite business book? I’m looking for a new read, and ready for you to sway my choice!

3 Opening Moves for an In-House PR Startup

This article originally appeared as a guest post on Brian Camen’s excellent The PR Practitioner blog.

With limited marketing resources, you have to reach for the low hanging.

With limited marketing resources, you gotta reach for the low hanging fruit.

A corporate reorganization left my manager and me – both marketing copywriters by trade – as stewards of the media relations program for a Fortune 500 enterprise in Phoenix, Arizona. Our company had historically shied from media coverage. But, despite limited resources, we wanted to transform our minimalist approach into a more proactive model.

At the start, our assets included a press release template, a process guideline for media engagement, and a pool of incredibly knowledgeable but far-flung subject matter experts (SMEs). That’s about it.

So, like most in this economy, we took a deep breath and got to work. These were our opening moves:

1. Pick the low-hanging fruit. With limited startup resources, we had to accept our limitations and identify and pursue easily achievable wins to gain momentum in our efforts. We simply didn’t have the manpower to pitch stories or build deep relationships with the media. So we patiently followed journalists on Twitter and browsed HARO e-mails and waited for a pitch to hit.

2. Secure executive buy-in. In some large companies, it’s easy to lose hours, if not days, in approvals. That dog won’t hunt for journalists on a 3 p.m. deadline. So we made the case for responsiveness and flexibility and streamlined our engagement process. Fortunately, our executives were very supportive—especially after we whetted their appetites with a handful of early wins.

3. Build a SME list. We’re blessed with a robust and deep pool of SMEs. Unfortunately, they’re spread from Boston to Chicago to Dallas to Phoenix, and that’s when they’re at their desks and not in the field. Plus, our industry is pretty technical. So we had to assess the SMs for which we had SMEs, and then locate the SMEs. Our SME list enabled us to react quickly to media opportunities.

We didn’t do everything right. But we managed to keep the lights on while building relationships with local journalists. And we advanced long-term projects including an online media room and an introductory media kit.

Eventually the plan called for adding resources and scaling our fledgling operation into industry publications and key markets outside Arizona.

So how’d we do? Let me know if we missed any key steps – or low-hanging fruit – in building out our program.