Raleigh goes high-tech at South By Southwest, in an RV

dmenconi@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2014 

— Late Wednesday afternoon, 15 minutes before the close of business at the South By Southwest trade show, James Sauls surveyed the scene from booth 1540, where the city of Raleigh was putting its best foot forward amid much cacophony.

Nearby, a rock band blared away, just loud enough for you to have to raise your voice to be heard. And just across the midway of the sprawling trade show, a cluster of young women at the state of Michigan’s very large booth played an arcade-type game involving the hitting of beach balls with baseball bats.

“Our booth is big enough, but I guess it’s not Michigan-big,” quipped Sauls, Raleigh’s economic development manager.

Sauls was one of 10 people, including Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who traveled to Austin for the interactive-media conference portion of South By Southwest. The entire event is a multimedia festival that also includes film and music, drawing hundreds of thousands of people from across the world every year.

This was the second year Raleigh has had a trade-show booth at South by Southwest, and it was nestled between booths for the Austin City Music Office and a business called J&M Statistical Solutions. Raleigh’s representatives came to Austin pitching the city as a hip, high-tech destination for young creative entrepreneurs who might have heard about Raleigh because of music festivals such as World of Bluegrass or the alternative-rock festival Hopscotch.

“The messaging here is different than what we’d do at a typical business-to-business show,” Sauls said. “This is different from the traditional trade show where you might throw down a business card, grab some swag and walk away.”

The undertaking had a certain scruffy charm. Four members of Raleigh’s team, including Sauls, traveled to Austin in an RV – and lodged there in the parking lot of Austin’s daily newspaper, the American-Statesman. McFarlane flew and stayed in a hotel (she covered all her own expenses for the trip, Sauls said).

While in Austin, McFarlane and Sauls had some meetings with local business leaders. Wednesday was their final day at the trade show, after which they were going to pack up, start the long drive back and ponder what to do for South By Southwest next year.

“We’ll evaluate whether or not to do a booth again or something different,” Sauls said. “But one thing I can tell you is that we will not be riding in an RV down here again. That was on the bucket list, but once was enough.”

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or www.newsobserver.com/OnTheBeat

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