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How Brands Showed Up for Women at SXSW: My Top Highlights from the Show

March 21, 2023

Headshot of Halli Jacobson

Halli Jacobson

PR Director

Every year I look forward to SXSW to see how brands represent themselves. I have to say, the experience this year was refreshing, with a greater focus on female empowerment and diversity. Brands have a real opportunity to create a safer and more accepting workplace, while also building stronger relationships with their customers. I came away inspired.

Here are some of the standout examples of how panels and brands showed up to fight the good fight at this year’s SXSW conference:

1. A strong sense of purpose from brands and events. Did I cry three times at one event? Yes, yes, I did. Across so many events, panels, and brand experiences, diversity and social issues were front and center, especially issues around women and transgender people in healthcare. These were my favorite panels and what I learned:

The Future of health panel for She Media Co-Lab

SHEMedia panel discussing maternal health

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our own panels — both of which had full rooms of inquiring minds.

  • Moderated by our very own Kyle Monson, You Should Start your own Indie Agency brought together a badass panel of women founders (and ours) to discuss the ups, the downs, and the behind-the-scenes of starting your own indie agency. One of the best takeaways I got: If you are going to start your own agency, make sure you have partners with different skills — there needs to be a numbers guru, a creative, and an account person (to keep the creative in line).
Codeword Partner Kyle Monson fielding tweets from the audience

Codeword Partner Kyle Monson fielding tweets from the audience

  • Moderated by Codeword’s Liv Allen was the spicy panel Brand POV in a Crisis: Speak Out or Shut the F Up? It drew a jam-packed room and dove into when, where, and why a brand should or shouldn’t speak up. My favorite takeaway: Stand up and speak out on the social issues that align with your brand and stick with it. The best way to know how to speak up and follow through is to have a diverse leadership team who has had different life experiences to best make a positive impact.
Liv Allen, VP at Codeword, Aaronde Creighton, Chief Diversity Officer at Leadership Circle, Sally Frykman, and Lyle Weston, Director at Joele Frank

Liv Allen, VP at Codeword, Aaronde Creighton, Chief Diversity Officer at Leadership Circle, Sally Frykman, and Lyle Weston, Director at Joele Frank

2. Farewell crypto and metaverse. Web3 and blockchain technologies were everywhere last year, and then poof, vanished. I expected a larger AI presence this year, but didn’t see anything close to the scale of last year’s metaverse/crypto mania. Or did I miss it? Maybe it’s because panel submissions were due over the summer, before the ChatGPT craze, but the programming seemed much more balanced across lots of different tech fields.

3. Everyone loves free shit. I now have more tote bags than I know what to do with and thanks to Tarte’s gift bag, a whole new makeup routine. Alongside the freebies, this year had a strong focus on beauty tech. A few callouts:

  • SHEMedia was the VIP with the Alle tote bags (WITH pockets) and SkinMedica products. I look younger already.
  • The WareHouse expo taught us that you can stay young looking as long as you have $6K+ to drop on a HigherDose infrared sauna (or $300+ for an infrared light mask). We also learned about how common hormone imbalance is in women, and how high-tech testing from Veracity is helping to get more women’s hormones in check, which is pretty cool, since there is little research on this.

4. Overall, women celebrated women more than ever this year and I was here for it!

5. Celebrity endorsements are hot. Not only did we see more celebrities than ever, there were more celebrity brand engagements. We all know the power of a celebrity influencer, and brands really bet on them this year.

Shout out to Bachelor alum Mike Johnson who was eating lunch at the same restaurant as us, but I was too shy to say hi. If you see this, hi! I love how you’ve used your fame to provide a voice to those w/o one.

6. Big brands were quiet. There were less big-branded events than we’ve ever seen at SXSW. In a normal year, Rainey Street is overtaken with brands throwing parties, every corner has a big brand warehouse party, and every parking lot has a merch table and a performance stage. A lot of that hubbub was gone this year, likely due to marketing budget cutbacks. I don’t think that means there’s not a creative way to show up. SXSW is a great opportunity for small brands to make a splash.

7. There is no substitute for real-world connections. That was clear as our own party kept Stubbs open late. 150 of our closest friends and colleagues enjoyed great conversation, great drinks, and some of the best food in Austin.

8. Networking was in full swing. The real reason people go to SXSW is to meet other people. It was easier than ever to strike up a conversation with someone new, which resulted in valuable new friendships and connections.

This year’s experience focused much less on the hottest technology trends and more about working to create a more equitable tech space. My time at SXSW reaffirmed the importance of having a diverse set of leaders who bring different perspectives and experiences to the table. Only then are brands able to better relate and build trust with their customers and key stakeholders.

The conference brought a renewed sense of purpose to my personal and professional life — looking to see how together we can be positive voices to the critical conversations happening in today’s tech industry.

Until next year, SXSW.

Some Codewordian’s at The Speakeasy, sitting on the very bench where the agency was hatched.

Some Codewordian’s at The Speakeasy, sitting on the very bench where the agency was hatched.

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