Want to Plan a SXSW Event? Read This First!

Everyone knows that South By Southwest (SXSW) is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – event that Austin sees every year. Other music festivals like Austin City Limits (ACL) can bring in the crowds, and UT-Austin games reach a huge audience; but between its music, film, and interactive festivals, SXSW is in an event class by itself.

That’s why, every year for the past 13 years, people ask us to help them produce their SXSW events – and why we want to finally address some elephants in the room.

Here are the hard truths about planning a SXSW event:

  • For a “basic” multi-day event, count on a minimum budget of USD $250,000* if you really want to make an impact.
  • Because it’s a huge festival, the competition for attention is just as huge. It’s noisy at SXSW (that’s what makes it awesome and organic). As a sponsor, you’re up against Fortune 100 companies, and you’ll have to spend like they do in order to compete.
  • Want to rent an Austin venue? Know there are a rules and regulations you’ll have to comply with in order to be an official SXSW event and everything comes with a price. Yes, can we negotiate? Absolutely. But please also recognize that it all comes down to supply and demand.
  • It’s January, which means that it might be too late to plan the event of your dreams for this year’s SXSW due to the stricter City of Austin (COA) permit rules; even if you have the budget for it. So plan ahead!

We know that this may be tough to hear, but it’s important to us as event professionals to be up front about planning SXSW events in our amazing city.

Here is some of my advice from seeing first-hand what has worked and failed at past SXSW activations:

  • If you are a startup trying to launch a product/app at SXSW, do NOT launch at SXSW if (1) the minimum budget scares you and/or (2) your product has not been tested by at least a 1000 random users actively. Instead, come and attend SXSW and attend all the parties and network with your peers and future users and then come back for a future SXSW to launch. You will be much happier with the results.
  • If you are looking for input on your product, SXSW is a great platform. Just be careful and not too eager to use the word launch or send out a press release saying you are doing it at SXSW. Gather the data and release afterwards.
  • There are definitely ways to get involved with SXSW on a smaller budget such as participating in Startup Crawl. You have to be okay with a single activation point and not get caught up with what I call the snowball effect and try to take on a multi-day activation. Instead, attend SXSW and network.
  • As our city has grown, our Downtown skyline has changed dramatically so the parking lot you may have experienced a previous activation is no longer available. Instead, a new hotel or condo could be residing there now. So as you pick an event partner to help you with your SXSW event, please be very aware of what permits may be required as the COA permit deadlines are different from other cities. Red Velvet Events is one of the few firms in Austin that has a full-time team member dedicated to permit handling. And we try to stay ahead of the game by meeting with the COA on a regular basis to see how we can work together better to serve our clients’ meeting and event needs.

We’re ready if you are to discuss your SXSW event goals with us – let us know!



*this is a high-level budget that includes venue rental, COA permits, marketing promotion, transportation, entertainment, rentals and project management. There are definitely creative ways to come in under but know that hotel, airfare and venue rentals are at a premium in our city during SXSW.