Skift Take

The executives behind the success of SXSW and Bonnaroo say they're developing more varied event programming bringing together as many creative elements as possible, so brands have more opportunities to engage attendees at different levels throughout the event experience.

During the Skift Global Forum in New York City this year, I spoke with Mike Shea, executive director of the SXSW conference in Austin, and Richard Goodstone, co-founder of Superfly, which produces Bonnaroo in Tennessee.

Both events attract over 80,000 attendees each year by integrating multidisciplinary live experiences, bringing together an insane variety of consumer brands, music, art, culture, and immersive technology. Shea and Goodstone suggest that the secret to their events’ success lies in the convergence of multimodal programming that defines the present culture of our times.

“We’ve been defining culture through the lens of live experiences for 20 years,” said Goodstone. “And we’re helping customers tell their story through that culture.”

Shea added, “One of the things we’re doing is more and more convergent types of events because our attendees aren’t one dimensional. Their companies aren’t one dimensional.”

Goodstone explained that it was once easy to delineate consumers by their interests, which made it easier to develop event programming, but now everyone is interested in a wide spectrum of pursuits, which he defines as “cultural fluidity.” Therefore, his priority is understanding the cultural nuances of Bonnaroo’s audience.

Part of that is accomplished through data capture, and part of it is through just building Bonnaroo for himself because he considers himself the end user.

Shea, meanwhile, developed the online SXSW PanelPicker to crowdsource programming ideas more than half a year ahead of the event. He called the initiative transformative to the event design process.

“It’s authentic, coming from people with an interest in the event,” Shea said.

Lastly, both Shea and Goodstone emphasized that their events are business platforms, first and foremost, for brands to engage their customers through compelling experiences. The goal is developing opportunities for serendipitous micro-moments at events where people can create unexpected relationships around like-minded interests.

“We build communities through shared passions,” said Goodstone. “Bonnaroo is a canvas, and we provide the crayons.”

You can watch the full interview, below.

Read more coverage of Skift Global Forum 2016.

At this year’s Skift Global Forum in New York City, travel leaders from around the world gathered for two days of inspiration, information, and conversation for panels such as this as well as solo TED-like talks on the future of travel.

Visit our Skift Global Forum site for more details about 2017 events, including our London event in April of 2017.

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Tags: meetings and events, sgf2016, skift global forum, sxsw

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