SXSW Series: Seize the opportunity by heading South by Southwest - Rachel Emson of VIVID on her trip to SXSW
In March 2023, GC Business Growth Hub will be heading to South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, an essential destination for global professionals in creative industries. The annual March event features sessions, music and comedy showcases, film screenings, exhibitions, professional development, and a variety of networking opportunities.
For the first time, GC Business Growth Hub will be joined by the community of Greater Manchester creative businesses to travel and attend the conference, to immerse themselves in conferences and festivals, get inspiration for innovative ideas and establish new connections through various networking events.
We have the chance to chat with Rachel Emson, Brand and Managing Director, VIVID Manchester, who will accompany us at the SXSW, on her motivations and expectations for joining the event.
Can you tell us about your marketing journey and some background on VIVID Manchester?
I started in marketing over 25 years ago in the retail sector, working for Topshop and Littlewoods. In 1999, I worked for a full-service agency with a mix of clients, which then merged with VIVID. In 2005, I became the Brand and Managing Director of VIVID through a management buyout. At this point, we started to focus on social behaviour change, and travel and tourism.
After a series of successful campaigns for Environment Agency, Smokefree Northwest and various destinations, including Warrington and Cheshire, we got the chance to promote the Northwest to the Londoner – and as we know, people in London don’t often like to leave London.
We needed to challenge and change behaviour and had the idea to create a series of short stories based around a short break in the Northwest. With Stuart Maconie, a radio DJ and writer, who has his roots in the North, as the ambassador. We built the campaign “Stuart’s Short Stories for Short Breaks” with teaser copy ads, long copies of advertorials, and podcasts. The campaign was well received by the market which led to winning an esteemed DBA Design for Excellence award, this really set a benchmark for what we could achieve creatively for the sector, applying our social behaviour change techniques into tourism.
Working in travel and tourism during the pandemic must have been challenging. How has the pandemic affected your business in the past three years?
As our business focused on travel and tourism, the past three years with COVID were a really tough time for us. Throughout the years, we have experienced ups and downs in the industry, but I have not seen anything like a global shutdown in my whole career. However, being in the industry for a long time, VIVID has built a strong relationship with our clients.
Marketing is not just about pushing out the message, but also about the connection between partners, from a small coffee shop on the corner to the biggest museum in town, trying to work together to create the same brand experience for our visitors. We have done everything during the pandemic to ensure that our clients and partners survive. When the pandemic is no more, we need everyone for the re-opening, and we are confident that this day will finally come, and when it does, people's desire to travel will grow exponentially.
With all that in mind, we immersed ourselves in all the research and papers, trying to understand the ever-changing trends in the market. Besides relying on traditional research surveys, we put a lot of effort into collecting real-time information, such as what the people say in real-time about the place they stayed, this is precious for us to analyse the market.
We shared all the knowledge with our partners and worked together on product development and automated some of the processes. We did a lot of preparation work, such as training, which was unpaid at the time, making sure we were ready for the inevitable comeback of the market. With all our efforts, as we approach the year-end, we hopefully will be at a tipping point for the first time with a £1m turnover.
So, after those difficult days, 2023 is time to grab the opportunity. What is your motivation for joining SXSW?
I know that nowadays, every industry is linked with technology; however, if you look at tourism, you will be amazed by how technology has been integrated into the whole process. People get inspiration from social media for the destination and attraction they plan to visit on their next trip. Following this, they will go on to the booking website to make their decision in the planning stage. The story continues as they arrive at their destination and use their mobile phone as a way to explore. Finally, they would share their experience on the trip through social media, kickstarting another cycle. Everything is resolved around technology.
We currently work with clients from the Highlands of Scotland to Mid Wales, from the Island of Guernsey to the Isle of Man. But one of our primary missions is to go out, get connected and learn from the globe, enabling us to bring in the idea to our UK’s client, and hopefully open us to connect with tourism boards elsewhere. SXSW is definitely a go-to destination for this purpose, and it has been our dream for quite some time.
We have used support from GC Business Growth Hub, both pre-COVID and during the pandemic, so I have followed their LinkedIn account for quite some time. When I learned about the opportunity to go to SXSW with businesses in the creative industry this year, I knew it was an opportunity too good to miss, so VIVID applied.
It is fantastic news for us to be able to join the Greater Manchester delegate to the event as it will provide us with a presence there instead of attending the event as a single, small company. It is particularly important as Greater Manchester is renowned for its creativity. With the support of the GC Business Growth Hub, Greater Manchester seems to be arriving at SXSW and displaying its creativity collectively.
What is your expectation of the event? What kind of technology might you transplant from the US to the UK market?
Obviously, we will see what kind of technology we can bring into the UK for our clients at SXSW, and the prediction of travel trends with real-time data is one of the main targets. We are also interested in creating a platform where every business and every stakeholder in an area can share their real-time data.
With the capability of AI, the platform can provide suggestions to the visitors on the potential itinerary, which in turn, escalates their satisfaction level. It is similar to how Tesco displays their chocolate eggs in a more prominent location at easter’s arrival, just that, human behaviour is much easier to predict on a shopping trip than on a travel trip.
This may not be making much sense now, but there is potential. This time, we would like to understand what is happening at the global level, to see what people out there are doing and what kind of technology and tools they are using so that we can learn, adapt, and adopt.
What else are you looking forward to?
Besides technology, networking opportunities are another area we would like to explore at the event. We want to meet with our clients in the UK who will join the event, and hopefully, we can make connections and network with potential clients aboard. It is not limited to the travelling and tourism industry, we also want to expand our network with those experts in technology, music, film and video, photography, artwork, etc. There are so many networking opportunities out there, and face-to-face contact is still vital, so meeting with others at the event is definitely a benefit for us to join this event.
I’m not attending this event expecting to open the US market with one goal, however, we definitely would like to work with our counterparts in the US market. There is some potential for us to collaborate and help our clients in both markets.
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