Prepare Your Business for SXSW

$315 million. That’s how much money South by Southwest pumped into the local Austin economy in 2014. Even if you don’t own a retail or hospitality business, SXSW–which runs from March 13th through the 22nd this year– is a great time to network with other business owners, share your idea for a new startup, and increase brand awareness with prospective customers and clients. Unsure how to make the most of the festival? Check out our business prep tips below.

Sponsor an Event

Maybe you have the budget for SXSW marketing but don’t have the venue. Fear not—it’s still possible to promote your business by sponsoring an official event. Festival organizers tailor sponsorship packages based on budget, marketing goals, and target demographics, so fill out a sponsorship contact form to learn what kind of deal you can get.

Hosting an Event? Brush Up on Regulations

SXSW reduced their number of temporary event permits by 25% this year, so if you snagged a permit, that’s great—but it doesn’t mean you have free rein to, say, build a giant wall of speakers and invite bands to play until sunrise. Outdoor venues that are more than 600 feet from residential properties have an amplified sound curfew of 10:30pm Sunday-Wednesday, 11pm Thursday, and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Any outdoor venues less than 600 feet from residential properties need to unplug by 8pm Sunday-Thursday and 10pm on Friday and Saturday.

If you’re hosting an event at an indoor venue, also keep in mind that building capacity does not automatically increase during SXSW—it’s still based on square footage.

No Badge? You Can Still Network

Your business doesn’t need to have a huge budget or an approved music venue to benefit from South By. Even if you don’t want to spring for a $1000+ festival badge (we don’t blame you), you can still attend plenty of free networking events. Here are a few that we’ve found:

  • Pre-SXSW Startup Crawl: This pub-style crawl between downtown startups had more than 50 host companies and 24,000 registered crawlers last year, and it promises to be even bigger this year. Several of our Leverage team members will be there—come say hi if you attend. The event takes place March 12th from 5-10 pm; you can register here.
  • SX Create 2015: This weekend tech showcase at the Long Center is for anyone who considers themselves a ‘creator, maker, hacker, or enabler of these types’. Even if you don’t work directly in the tech industry, it’s a good opportunity to meet people who could help you grow your business. Learn more here, and attend any time from 11am-6pm, March 13-15.
  • Tech Cocktail’s Startup Celebration: This is another opportunity to network with tech innovators in a laid back setting (Maggie Mae’s, on 6th Street). The free event takes place from 7pm-11pm on March 15th. Register here.

More free networking events will be announced the closer we get to SXSW, so keep checking MeetUp, Do512, and Eventbrite to find the ones that are best for you and your business.

Carry the Essentials

If you’re planning to run around town to different networking events during South By, make sure you pack/wear your survival kit:

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Clothing for all weather
  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Portable phone charger or extra batteries
  • Up-to-date business cards
  • Your polished elevator pitch (you never know who you’ll meet)

Strengthen Your Online Reputation before SXSW

One thing that many local businesses overlook when preparing for SXSW is their online reputation. This is especially important if you own a restaurant or store in the downtown area—many festival attendees will be checking Yelp, Urbanspoon, Google+, and other online review sources to decide where to go, and a few prominent negative reviews may be enough to dissuade them. In fact, research shows that even a 1 star difference in online reviews can affect a business’s revenue by 5-9%.

So what can you do? Claim your business’s Google+ profile, if you haven’t already. Make sure you’ve updated all your business’s social media channels and your personal LinkedIn profile. Respond positively to any negative reviews, potentially offering a concrete solution to problems that past customers have voiced. Highlight positive reviews on your website and in your ad campaigns. If all of this sounds overwhelming, contact Leverage Marketing—we’d be glad to help you build and maintain a positive online reputation.


Get the Phone Ringing With Google’s Call-Only Ads

Google has just unveiled a new campaign format to help advertisers take advantage of the continued trend of searches going mobile. To help advertisers dip their toes in, AdWords now offers “Call-Only Ads”. Google has re-introduced the ability to get phone calls directly from mobile ads. While you can always enable “Click-to-Call” extensions for your campaign, this doesn’t guarantee that they will appear in every ad auction. In addition, users still have the opportunity to click through to the main website, which is not ideal if your only goal is to drive phone calls. Call-Only ads allow advertisers to bid on mobile searches and serve ads that, as the name suggests, only lead directly to phone calls.

To get the most out of these ads, you should create a separate campaign for your Call-Only ads. To do this, create a new “Search Network Only” campaign. On the Campaign Setting page, select the radio button for “Call-only”. After rolling all device targeting together with Enhanced Campaigns over a year ago, Google has given back a bit of control, allowing you to separate your Call-Only mobile ads from other ad types. This is important for segmenting your bidding strategy, since you are likely to have different CPA or ROAS goals for phone calls than for website visitors.  Since you don’t have to worry about sharing the campaign budget with more traditional search ads, you will be able to bid efficiently for phone calls.

The next step will be writing ads that entice users to place a call. The ad format itself is basically the same as a traditional search ad: headline, two description lines, and a display URL. The difference is that the headline will always be your phone number. As with call extensions, when creating your ad, you’ll have the option to use a Google forwarding number for call tracking. You’ll also need to supply a Verification URL, which is a page where the number in your ad is listed. Once you have this all set up, start testing ad copy and get that phone ringing.


It’s strange for me to put this into perspective but, to some of my employees, I’m not a young guy.

Without divulging my age, the younger sect I employ and do business with have, either verbally (“that was REALLY back in the day, yo!”) or non-verbally (a facial expression that combines astonishment with sympathy) called me out on my alleged “middle aged” status over the last few years.

While I consider myself young at heart, and I do pride myself for maintaining an above-average physique and energy level compared to others in my age group, these young whippersnappers were amazed when I recalled the following from my younger days:


  • Seeing Walter Payton wreck havoc at Soldier Field, pre-Mike Ditka
  • Getting fouled out by cigarette smoke – at the grocery store and Dunkin Donuts
  • VHS vs. Beta
  • Seeing the original “Star Wars” in a movie theater (where smoking was allowed in the lobby)
  • Listening to a) Steely Dan with my parents b) in their wood-panneled station wagon c) on 8-track
  • A workday that started at 9 a.m. sharp and concluded at 5 p.m., with a set one hour lunch


Admittedly, while I can get the ribbing from my Millennial counterparts regarding the five points above – I do take pride in experiencing Payton and “Star Wars” firsthand, but still cringe every time I hear the Dan’s “Aja” – they have, over the last few years, turned me to their way of thinking when it comes to work hours and ethic.

I will always hold myself, as well as those who work for me, to giving no less than 100% to the responsibilities and projects they’re tasked with, be they on the creative, sales or administrative sides. My concern though, is the outcome of the work. Whether they started at 9:15 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. to get the job done doesn’t really mean squat.

While this isn’t solely confined to Millennials– in every business with employees of every age, there will always be slackers and go-getters – a lot of the best workers I have known and have to this day are aware of the tasks and projects at hand and, equally important, understand the time and energy it will take to get the work done to the best of their abilities, and these are also some key characteristics of millennials in the workplace. If this means they’re logging on earlier than the local banker, burning late night oil, or coming in or working via remote on a Saturday or Sunday to meet their responsibilities or make their deadline, they’ll do so for the benefit of the work and the pride they have for the job, which is one of the best strengths of millennials.

Think of it this way: any schmuck can work a 40-hour week and punch a clock, but not everyone can meet a deadline and provide stellar results or product. And I’ve noticed, that by emphasizing results and outcome over a structured schedule, the cream of the employees has, and will continue to, rise to the top.

Maybe it is a generational thing: working with Millennials that are just starting their careers they are hard-pressed to remember when the Internet was not a prominent tool in their education or working environment. But it’s this age group, I’ve noticed, who have embraced this project/responsibility-minded ethic with gusto. This has served them well, as well as myself and Leverage’s clients.

I may not be a young buck, but I’m certain these kids are onto something good.

Contact Us to learn more about what the Millennials here at Leverage can do for your business.

5 Digital Marketing Tools to Stay Ahead of the Game

There are a multitude of digital marketing tools out there to choose from. It can be time-consuming and daunting to evaluate all the options, but great tools are necessary to get the job done. The Leverage Marketing team has picked out some of our favorite tools in an effort to help you make the best choice and waste less valuable time when it comes to finding new tools for your company or marketing department. These tools are some of our favorites because they aren’t just passing fads. They’ve stood the test of time and will be around for a good while to help you be more competitive online. Read more

Marketing is Going — and Staying — Mobile

The distance we’ve come in terms of the Internet and its impact on society over the last two decades is, if you think about it, pretty jaw-dropping.

In 1995, the World Wide Web was at an infantile stage, to say the least. Businesses and households were just catching onto this new means of communication and information gathering, and the now-primitive dial-up connection was nothing short of amazing to new users. Additionally, the ink was barely dry on Amazon and Yahoo!’s articles of incorporation papers, and present-day essentials such as Google and Hotmail were a few years away from launching.

Additionally, many people were skeptical when it came to the web and it’s potential. Take a read below at excerpts from “The Internet? Bah!”  a column published in Newsweek in 1995 by author Clifford Stoll.

Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic. Baloney … We’re promised instant catalog shopping–just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?

I can’t fault Stoll for this. The technology was just learning to crawl twenty years ago, and the leaps and bounds in which the internet has grown into as we see it today was hard for even the most ardent supporters to forecast.

These days, mobile searching – both in terms of PPC ads and SEO – has become the norm, and no longer a practice confined only to the select tech-savvy few.

It wasn’t long after 1995 and Stoll’s prediction, that online search became common practice for consumers and a primary focus for companies directing their advertising and marketing online. Like the internet as a whole in its early days, users took some time to get acclimated to using their mobile devices as a means to search. The last few years, though, has seen mobile searching grow by much more than leaps and bounds.

Numerous publications and internet marketing websites, from the Wall Street Journal to eMarketer, noted the declination in desktop search revenue and increase in mobile search spending last year. This will continue to be the case this year and, three years from now, mobile search will make up the majority of search spending.

With mobile technology and the number of mobile users both advancing rapidly today, this is no surprise. But while the ad dollars are following the new medium, it is expected that the return on investment from mobile marketing will take some time to catch up to that of desktop marketing.

A September, 2014 column on pointed to three reasons for slow growth in mobile ROI:

  1. Consumer use behavior – shoppers and users generally use their smartphones when they are out of home or office. Tablet users, on the other hand, are more prone to using their devise at home
  2. Multi-screening – these days, most PC users have two screens at their disposal and, while using their smartphone as the first point of reference, they tend to go to their PC to complete the transaction
  3. Functionality – again, this is more for the smartphone the tablet. Despite the growing size of smartphones, they are still wieldy for some users in terms of viewing products, navigation and viewing.

It’s expected, though, that continued technological advancements in terms of both mobile hardware and software, along with consumers’ growing confidence in mobile searching and shopping will contribute to the growth of calculable ROI from mobile marketing.
Despite the ROI challenge, I’m certain that mobile search and marketing will become as common to the masses as waiting for the dialup to process was in the `90s. As a tech enthusiast, it’s going to be fun to watch it evolve, and here at Leverage, it’s going to be exciting to evolve along with it.