‘Do the Basics Well’: The Beat Heard Around this Year’s SXSW

Leo Burnett Executive Vice President Larry Byrne provides his thoughts on what he learned from attending the panels at this year's SXSW Interactive Festival.



‘Do the Basics Well’: The Beat Heard Around this Year’s SXSW

By Larry Byrne, Executive Vice President at Leo Burnett.


Twitter, Foursquare, Meerkat. Every year at the SXSW Interactive festival, there has been a breakout technology getting all the buzz. This year, I heard a consistent beat, across a variety of topics, that could be best described as “do the basics well.” Panel after panel emphasized the importance of preparation and knowing the purpose of your work. If you don’t know the point of what you’re trying to say, say nothing until you figure it out. Once you figure it out, be fearless in execution. Do your homework, make a plan and then be prepared to be flexible when you discover new insight. This resonated with me because it fits exactly with what we are seeking to accomplish at Leo Burnett. 


I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a varied career,both at agencies and production companies, in every role from production assistant to global team leader. Lately, I’m excited about the possibility of using data and the insights we can gain from it to unlock new ways of working and uncover innovative creative solutions.


“Know what you want to accomplish before you start”


Facebook’s Dr. Naomi Grewal focused on cross-media consumption and physiologic response to advertising in her panel, “This Is Your Brain, This Is Your Brain on Ads.” To put it another way, using technology to gain insights on the unspoken reactions to messages. The tech was interesting to learn about, but really only useful when you know what you are hoping to accomplish before you start. This fits exactly with our approach of using data sets to find opportunities that reach consumers in a way that is useful to them. Utilizing search data, for example, gives us a look at the 3 billion-plus questions asked daily on Google, telling us what people want and need now, and what they are seeking next.


“Know what you can bring to the conversation that no one else can”


Lymari Morales, managing director/editorial at The Atlantic, explained how she and her team developed a strategy to deliver content to targeted audiences. Their challenge was to continue to adapt a 160-year-old publication to new channels and platforms. By following simple principles for how work would be developed, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day; instead they can focus on creating engaging content consistent with their mission.


Leo Burnett himself would have called this the “inherent drama” of our clients’ brands. We know what the brand stands for, what we can say about it is that is unique we now have the tools to find the white space and show up at the right time with the right message. We can create guidelines for how work will be created and distributed that allow us to be timely without being at the mercy of rigid timelines.


“The difference between success and failure can be simple positive things practiced every day or bad habits repeated continuously”


Conor Brady, CCO of Critical Mass, used the inspiration of visionary cycling coach Dave Brailsford to illustrate “How Marginal Gains Is Turning ‘Good’ to Gold.” Brailsford turned the British national cycling team, which had not been considered a serious contender, into the dominant team at the 2008 Olympics, when it captured 70% of the golds awarded in its field. Brailsford examined every aspect of the team’s training regimen and took advantage of every opportunity to make even a 1% improvement. The aggregate effect of many small improvements over time creates a culture of innovation and creative possibility.


Considered in today’s marketing ecosystem, this allows for a dynamic approach to how brands we work with show up in the world. It can be as simple as optimizing based on A/B testing results or something more complex, like thinking of a campaign launch not as an endpoint but as the beginning of an ongoing conversation that will evolve over time. 


Larry Byrne is an Executive Vice President at Leo Burnett USA.