by Staff Writer

For nearly a decade, Ogilvy Health has sent a delegation of curious creatives, tech-hungry digital gurus, and forward-thinking strategists to South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference & Festivals for an annual pilgrimage of innovation and inspiration. Though things will feel a little different because the event is entirely virtual this year, SXSW remains a multi-day blitz of thought-provoking speakers, innovative thinking, and mind-blowing technology. Our team’s takeaways each year reinvigorate the agency, our clients, and their brands with cutting-edge news, information, and solutions. With the 2021 SXSW conference just around the corner, we asked this year’s attendees to tell us what they are most excited to experience and bring back to the rest of us from this hotbed of innovation.

Our Team: 

  • Andrew Thorn (Head of Planning) 
  • Lisa Green, PhD (VP, Medical Director) 
  • Martha Maranzani (SVP, Digital Engagement Strategy) 
  • Beth Elkis (SVP, Group Creative Director) 
  • Lisa Fritts (SVP, Planner) 
  • Ritesh Patel (Chief Digital Officer) 

What are you most excited about for SXSW 2021? 

Andrew Thorn: Not flying to Austin. Ba dum bum. I kid. But seriously ladies and germs, some of my best friends live in Austin… it’s true!  

A few of the technologies I’ve been tracking, like voice-based interfaces, health applications of VR, and wearables, are well-represented, but I’m most interested in synthesizing how social responsibility and purpose-led branding is integrated throughout the event.

Lisa Green, PhD: I’m excited to see how this past year of adaptation to and learnings from the COVID pandemic are shaping industry, art, and policy. 

Martha Maranzani: I am most excited about being able to attend sessions without having to wait in massive lines! At the live event, if you didn’t get to a session venue early enough, you might be turned away. This year, you can attend with the click of a button. Although I’ll miss the amazing in-person vibe of SXSW, I am excited about the convenience of the online event. I am also excited about Willie Nelson’s keynote talk; I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. 

Beth Elkis: While I will certainly miss the camaraderie, the pop-ups, and the in-person booth experiences of SXSW, as well as the many “tastes” of Austin, there is a lot to be excited about when thinking of this year’s convention. 

Programs addressing the social issues are finally getting the attention they deserve. Sessions, such as Fighting Unconscious Bias, the Impact of Race and Gender on Global Healthcare, and Rethinking Masculinity, will address issues that I am passionate about. I am equally excited to see leading-edge thinking in the session entitled Disability-Led Innovation in Future Workplaces and Disability Technologies. 

Lisa Fritts: We are all living in a new, pandemic-impacted world. The bigger themes of this year’s SXSW lean into what’s happened over the past year. It will be super exciting to hear what good progress is coming from what we’ve all lived through. 

Ritesh Patel: This will be the first virtual SXSW so I am really interested in seeing how this is pulled off and what the experience will be like—especially as the sessions have changed a bit as well. There are some meaty sessions covering topics like health equity, racial justice in health, the impact of the metaverse/multiverse on social, and the impact of voice and VR tech on healthcare. 

With so many areas of business represented, what other industries are you interested in learning from? 

Andrew Thorn: I’m deeply interested in human behavior. At the end of the day, we’re all just humans. Doctors, patients, caregivers, and care teams alike. I find a wealth of knowledge can be gleaned by looking at how other industries respond to the world and represent themselves. In particular, I’m looking to find demonstrable examples of the value of focusing on inclusivity, be it culturally or for diverse abilities. Moreover, music and art are so valuable to us—not just as a touchpoint that helps define and shape our cultural perceptions—but also for its therapeutic value and application in so many areas of health and wellness. 

Lisa Green: Oh, so many! Of course, biomedical and healthcare (new technologies, approaches), but also climate-related business, cosmos, fashion, cyber issues, evolution of the arts. 

Martha Maranzani: I am going to pivot here and say that I am interested in learning from the global nature of the conference—how are things done differently outside of North America? How are other countries implementing technology to change their corners of the world? Is it different from what we are doing in the United States? What can we learn from these global executions? 

Beth Elkis: I am most excited about the wide range of topics and speakers offered in this year’s conference. I’ve always been inspired by the creativity of others, regardless of industry. I’m particularly interested in the Cultural Resilience in the Arts session theme that features film, architecture (virtual cities build community), and TikTok. Transforming the Entertainment Landscape session theme looks intriguing with its presentations on virtual cinema, eSports and gamer theory. 

Lisa Fritts: Diversity, equity, and inclusion are very much a part of my client-facing conversations and personal passion. I’m looking forward to hearing how other organizations are navigating and making progress in creating a better culture for all humans. 

Ritesh Patel: The entertainment industry has embraced new models and tools to address the needs of the consumer during the pandemic. I think learning from that industry, particularly as it relates to content and experience, is what I’m going to focus on. 

How do events like SXSW help our clients and their brands stand out and cut through the noise? 

Andrew Thorn: Brands must be intentional and innovative. For that to happen, they must be able to walk the talk, and respond in a highly adaptive way. Events like SXSW allow us to take a step back, gain new inputs, and approach our business problems from a different direction and, importantly, help us demonstrate the mechanisms that lead to “what’s next.” 

Lisa Green: A collection of innovative and creative thinking like SXSW serves as great inspiration for us in the healthcare field as we are always searching for ways to optimize how we can help our clients with effective and relevant communication.  

Martha Maranzani: SXSW shows us what’s on the cutting edge and it gives us a glimpse into the future. It allows us to bring these ideas and ways of thinking to our clients and get them excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. By being early adopters of new technologies, which is not something that pharma companies typically do, our brands and clients can stand out and cut through the noise of the “same old, same old” of typical pharma marketing. 

Beth Elkis: These events expose and educate us to what’s possible by showcasing cutting-edge technology, innovative thinking, and fresh creativity. I routinely go to museums and exhibits, but SXSW brings forth creative expressions we don’t often get to see, hence I am jumping at the opportunity. It helps expand, in my mind, the world of possibility and I can share this experience with colleagues. Ultimately, this experience will broaden the thinking that we can bring to our clients in response to their creative needs. 

Lisa Fritts: It’s easy to listen to your own tribes, your own brands’ stories. Attending SXSW gives us the opportunity to share new perspectives, different thinking that can be applied to our clients’ businesses and our own, too, near- or long-term.  

Ritesh Patel: SXSW has always been the event that showcases new experiences, new tools and, in some cases, what’s on the bleeding-edge. Brands are able to take a pulse and decide what works for them for the future.