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Tech-powered comms trends that had people buzzing at SxSW 2019


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SxSW 2019 brought groups to Austin, Texas that included tech giants, large corporations, start-ups and media. Finsbury attended the conference to learn more about using technology to build and protect clients’ reputation capital. Below we have captured a few of the key narratives that had people buzzing in Austin.


In 2019, news organisations will continue to focus on mapping online data to make their content more relevant to consumers while increasing their ability to generate ad revenues. As such, CNN has started gathering user-specific insights to identify which journalists, topics and channels resonate best with information seekers. In as little as a few months, publishers may begin targeting readers on social media, search engines and email suggesting tailored subscription to news from our favourite reporter, delivered on our favourite social media channel, at our preferred time of the day.

AI and the Future of Journalism

SxSW 2019

Speakers included: Meredith Broussard, Assistant Professor focusing on data-driven reporting at NYU, Elite Truong, Deputy Editor of Strategic Initiatives at The Washington Post, Emily Withrow, Director of Quartz Bot Studio, Rubina Fillion, Director of Audience Engagement at The Intercept #AIJournalism @sxsw

The growing use of AI and machine learning in marketing and communications was once again a popular theme. Members of the “AI and the Future of Journalism” panel stated that few people would be aware that many articles are in fact written by bots rather than humans. Major publications like the New York Times, Quartz and Washington Post have invested in customised software designed to automate stories that follow a predictable formula (e.g. earnings reports, local election results and summaries of sporting events). AI is used by publishers also to tailor stories to individual readers, adding or removing details in real-time, based on the readers’ level of knowledge on the topic they are reading about.

However, the growth of AI in journalism does not signal the end of human journalists. AI programs often perform manual processes, allowing journalists to focus on enterprise reporting and stories that require more nuance.

Redefining purpose

The traditional news media model has been challenged for years. A partnership approach to solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges is defining how companies see their brand purpose in the context of today’s society and information exchange. Publishers who have recently moved away from ad-supported models towards paywall-restricted news have triggered a dangerous move in an attempt to preserve editorial integrity while remaining profitable. The inability to access free high-quality information ultimately means misinformation. Ensuring access to information now defines the brand purpose of companies like Twitter which develop paid products for publishers while allowing people to discover and engage with the publishers’ content for free.

Finsbury at SxSW 2019 TwitterHouse

Reshaping the business of news, with views from @nicksallon ‏(@Twitter) and Shani Hilton (@BuzzFeed) – from the #Twitterhouse! #Sxsw

Context VS Content Marketing

Content marketing is, at its core, about delivering useful information through owned channels, social media and search engines. Today, content marketers must determine how to link content with context in an environment where recency increasingly equals relevancy. The need for context marketing means delivering 1) the right content; 2) to the right user; 3) at the right time. Context marketing – a complex beast of data, analytics and activation – will likely underpin and become fundamental to the future of effective communications.

Numbers' focus no more

Finsbury at SxSW 2019 UKTI

@SaskiaSJones _(_Data Strategy Director, @BBHLondon) shares her rules of creativity in social media and how to break them.

The UK Trade and Investment department’s pop-up at SxSW dealt with the question of meaningful social media engagement. Communications professionals are no longer trying to measure column inches (thank god!), but sentiment, traffic, engagements. A quantity over quality approach to engagement means that social media is no longer truly social. Take the widely accepted best practice of creating short, sub-15 seconds videos. Hyper-consumable content is no longer effective, particularly when delivering high-value educational content. The high-volume traffic generated by this content does not mean people are actually finding it useful and often, the delivered message fails. The short message boom is over and people are making their return to longer form content.

Innovation through cultural change

Large corporates at SxSW addressed the cultural change required to foster innovation and expedite the process of implementing it in a timely manner. At Ogilvy & Humble’s Digital Health Pop-Up we heard from Merck, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson on how they encourage partnerships with start-ups by fostering change internally, operationally and philosophically.

Identifying and fostering innovative ideas at Merck often involves less conventional approaches to scouting using online data and monitoring articles, social media and digital knowledge hubs to identify trends and early stage entrepreneurs. Rolling out the idea internally is then a question of culture – one that supports and accepts innovation with all its risks and opportunities. Cultural change requires an innovation strategy that is, first and foremost, successfully communicated internally.

Finsbury at SxSW 2019 OgilvyHumbleVentures

Right to left: Cris DeLuca - Global head of Innovation J&J Fabrizio Caranci - Director, Global Marketing Vaccines - Merck Jim Mangione - Director, Emerging Technology - Pfizer

Empowering women to drive innovation

The underutilisation of women’s innovation potential drove many of the sessions we attended. Supporting diversity is a critical component of successful innovation policy to experts. While there is an increase in U.S. patents that include at least one woman inventor, the number is still very low with only 21 percent according to a report recently released by the USPTO.

Finsbury at SxSW 2019 WomenTechpreneurEvent

Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary for Intellectual Property and Director for the United States Patent and Trademark Office hosted by Ingrid Vanderveldt CEO of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 (EBW2020)

Our favourite female innovators were present, passionate and full of positive expectations. Their discussion of what innovation means to society and incremental nature gender balance was especially meaningful and substantive.

Finsbury at SxSW 2019 OgilvyHumbleVenturesDiversityTalk

Speakers included: Tanvi Vattikuti Abbhi , CoFounder, Veta Health, Ivelyse Andino, CEO Radical Shamala Hinrichsen, Founder Hanai

We left Austin with plenty of food for thought and ideas about how to improve upon helping clients discover and channel innovation in their organisations and how to do this better in our own.