Amid the roar of South by Southwest (SXSW  for the uninitiated), there’s a seemingly endless selection of avenues to travel down. First, there are the big paths. Film, music, and interactive. Interactive, while an extremely diverse track in its own right (featuring a wealth of financial services, healthcare, and education-related offerings) is traditionally focused on tech. This is where we operate at Gregory FCA.

But unlike some of the other major tech conferences, centered purely on the trade show, where SXSW differentiates itself is in the quality and sheer volume of fantastic events, from parties to panel discussions.

The mid-day and evening parties are where the movers and shakers make things happen. From basic networking to partnership discussions to funding deals, many executives fly in just for one day to shake a hand, have a drink, and pick the right conversation. Find yourself at the right place, at the right time, with the right people, and there’s gold to discover.

On the other side, we have our morning and afternoon activities, mostly notably panel discussions. Pick a subject in marketing, branding, journalism, social media, video, or podcasting, and there’s an industry expert ready to talk.

For Gregory FCA, a topic of increasing importance is influencer marketing, and with a week’s worth of influencer-focused panels, I did my best to pick and choose the most compelling. We saw both sides of the coin: How to become an influencer and how to work with one.

How 3 influencers rose to fame

One of my favorite panels, on enhancing content with emerging technologies, featured a trio of content superstars, including Liz Eswein, better known as New York City on Instagram; Julien Solomita, a leading vlogger; and Devin Supertramp, maker of some of the most beautiful YouTube videos you’ve ever seen. Each panelist, while an expert in their distinct social medium, all followed a similar playbook: Be early and go hard.

Eswein shared how in 2011, shortly after Instagram secured $7 million in Series A funding, she registered on the network as NewYorkCity (LizNYC was apparently taken). Six years and 1.3M followers later, she’s a bona fide Instagram star. But it wasn’t just the big league name that explains Eswein’s rise. If you take a look at her account, you’ll see an endless series of beautiful, yet delightfully pedestrian, shots of the city – an authentic perspective that no government office or tourist bureau could provide.

Solomita, too, shares a similar story. As one of the first fulltime vloggers, he picked his medium then hit it hard, producing tons and tons of content. What he, and the other panelists found, was: (1) the more content you produce, the better chance it has to be seen by both new and existing audiences; and (2) the more content you produce, the more opportunity you have to try something new. Try enough new, creative approaches and something is bound to make an impact.


How to tell your story through influencers

Another panel featured a number of players from the brand side of influencer marketing, including Katie Cheng, VP of Marketing at Samsung US; Brian Saltzman, CEO of RQ, an influencer marketing agency; Brian Irving, CMO of Hampton Creek foods; and Zach Iser, a talent agent at ICM.


The focus of this talk was centered on what brands must do to ensure a successful influencer marketing program. Perhaps the biggest takeaway was a fact that PR people know well – relationships are king. The brand/influencer relationship isn’t something that happens with the snap of a finger or the signing of a check. Relationships are built over time, and are the result of mutual value and trust.

But the value of an influencer marketing program isn’t limited to just two parties. To be successful, the program must speak to all involved – the brand, the influencer, and most importantly, the consumer. If one of the three cogs isn’t seeing a return, whether it be in the form of product visibility, sales, or brand authenticity, then the whole operation grinds to a halt.


Having said all that said, the panel agreed that establishing a solid, value-driven relationship is just the beginning. To make an impact, authentic influencer marketing still needs to rely on quality storytelling.


This, of course, is not unlike traditional public relations, where good storytelling is the fuel that drives a brand narrative. It’s what every successful campaign hinges on, from winning media coverage to creating visual content to blogging.

While SXSW is a massive, and sometimes overwhelming spectacle, it truly is a picker’s paradise for some of the world’s best networking, knowledge building, and last but certainly not least, fun. Surely I mentioned music and BBQ, right?

Until next year, Austin!


@sylvanesso, my gawd.

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