On the Horizon: SXSW 2017


With the South by Southwest 2017 festival right around the corner, we sat down with the OCHWW team that will be taking Austin, TX, by storm and taking in all the technology and creativity insights. Take a look at what our experts are setting their sights on for SXSW 2017.


Our team:

Ritesh Patel, EVP chief digital officer

Chris Cullmann, SVP director engagement strategy

Kyle Grazia, SVP creative director

Austin Wei, VP associate creative director

Sean Kinney, group art director

As an upcoming SXSW attendee, what are some expectations you have about this year's festival?


Sean Kinney: I am really excited to be in a community of innovators and big thinkers from across all walks of life. It will really help bring a different perspective to what I do every day seeing the different approaches other people in various fields take to emerging technology, design and health sciences. I look forward to being introduced to a line of thinking that really pushes for me what I view as the box I am working in. I am so stoked. 


Ritesh Patel: I am hoping to meet some of the many new startups that are exploring the health and wellness space since last year. Also, I can’t wait to attend some of the fascinating workshops.


Austin Wei: I hope to learn about upcoming trends in design and technology as well as learn from various other industry leaders about how they approach design and the creative process. I am also looking forward to being inspired and discovering new ways to bring unique creative processes and technology back to the agency and my clients.


Kyle Grazia: Since it is my first time going to SXSW, I am very excited about getting a first-hand experience on how design and technology are moving forward. I’m very interested in how we can use new technology to support and lead our clients in the healthcare industry. I’m also interested in seeing what other industries are doing and how we can try to use these insights for our clients.


Chris Cullmann: I am excited to see how the healthcare track is evolving at SXSW. Having visited the festival previously, healthcare has taken an increasingly important role, specifically in the startup spaces. I am very intrigued by the two worlds of fast-moving entrepreneurs and traditional leaders meeting at innovation events like SXSW.

What trends are you most excited to see at SXSW 2017?


Ritesh Patel: I am most excited to see advancements in artificial intelligence and chat bots with regard to their application in the health and wellness space.


Kyle Grazia: I’m very excited to see where augmented reality and VR are going to go, and how social can truly be used to help our clients and their patients.


Chris Cullmann: VR and AI. As two different categories that have a lion’s share of attention this past year, they are both set up to be hot topics for SXSW. I am very interested to see how the technological elite will shape AI into their respective verticals—and how markets will adopt those solutions in the coming year.

With so many industries present at the festival, what other businesses are you interested in learning about?


Sean Kinney: I am really interested in seeing the IBM Watson conference. There has been a lot of buzz going on about what Watson has to offer in healthcare, specifically oncology where I am currently working. Besides the IBM conference, I am really looking forward to some of the design workshops offered in the festival. It’s a great opportunity to see how others in different fields approach some of the same challenges I face in my career, whether it be just design or unique approaches to storytelling.


Ritesh Patel: I am excited to learn more about how retail is being impacted by today’s digital trends—online shopping is evolving at a rapid pace.


Austin Wei: I am really curious to see how certain VR and AR companies are growing and plan to make AR and VR more accessible for the masses. I also am looking forward to seeing how social is evolving and how it can be applied to healthcare, especially with the strict regulations that come with it. Lastly, I look forward to seeing how certain media companies have refined their storytelling process as well as their distribution methods and see what parallels that may have for the healthcare industry.


Chris Cullmann: I am very interested to see how the giants plan to address privacy. Individual privacy has been a very important discussion point this past year and becomes increasingly important as we roll out new technology in our homes, cars, and with personal data. As someone practicing in digital healthcare communication, the outcomes will affect everything from email campaigns to health records.

What makes the SXSW festival such a popular destination for creativity and interactive technologies?


Sean Kinney: I think SXSW is the center of the universe of where the future is heading. It’s important to have this opportunity and to be able to see what’s happening in other fields if we are to push the work we do in healthcare advertising. I am constantly looking for new ways to promote my clients’ products and innovate the work that we do. I cannot think of a place better than this, to be inspired, to use as a launch pad for taking those next steps and tackling those next challenges. I really hope to bring back new perspectives and approaches to an industry that is really looking to innovate and break boundaries.


Ritesh Patel: I think it’s the motivation of creativity (particularly the music festival afterwards) and technology (Austin is now the Silicon Valley of Texas), and that collision that energizes and attracts people. Nothing better than creative and tech coming together to create amazing solutions, and some of the best creative minds are in Austin at SXSW.


Austin Wei: SXSW is unique in the fact that it is so large and comprehensive in what it covers. That makes it a perfect intersection of creativity and technology covering a wide gamut of creative industries such as design, film, music, and technology. This affords attendees the opportunity to see how the creative process parallels other disciplines.


Kyle Grazia: I believe it is a very popular destination because of the massive amount of cutting-edge technology, film, music and creative—giving us a glimpse of what our future holds.


Chris Cullmann: The energy. Austin is alive with the festival. It takes over the city and the energy is palpable.

How does SXSW compare to other industry events?


Sean Kinney: I think it’s very ground-breaking for Ogilvy CommonHealth to be sending us to this festival. It’s giving us the opportunity to grow in ways we will not find in the confines of our industry. It really gives us an opportunity to be exposed to technology and design on the verge of innovation. Bringing these experiences and connections back to the home office opens us up to being not only a leader in the industry but to helping us lead our clients into the modern age of healthcare advertising. 


Ritesh Patel: It’s a unique experience. I have not attended other events like this one. Cannes is very creative, CLIOs are creative. This one is creative AND tech combined.


Chris Cullmann: Because of the mix of industries and the commercialization of SXSW, the energy of the event is changing, but its scale is so impressive. Its connection to the music festival also adds to the draw and unique attributes.  

What exhibits/presentations are you most looking forward to this year?


Ritesh Patel: Mainly the healthcare startups, and anything to do with AI and chat.


Austin Wei: I am looking forward to Yu Kai Chou’s session, “Actionable Gamification for the Win,” and seeing how gamification is evolving and applicable to Pharma. I am also looking forward to attending, “Close Enough to Touch: Immersive Storyworlds,” which focuses on targeted storytelling to see how we can creatively reach our consumers and tell our brand stories better. Lastly, I look forward to refining my creative process by attending, “It’s Not Ready Yet: The Perfectionist’s Struggle,” given by Christine Herrin from Adobe.


Kyle Grazia: I’m most looking forward to How Wounded Warriors are Transforming Biotech, Austin’s Best VR/AR Startups, Why Aren’t We Shopping for Healthcare, Tech’s Lessons for Healthcare, Design Changes the World – Adobe XD Changes Design, and hopefully we will be able to get into everything!


Chris Cullmann: There is a session with Sunny Bates, MIT Media Lab, titled “Telepathy Meets Medical Imaging” that looks at communication through thought. There is a bit of AI added into the discussion: This should be one of the more insightful panels this year. I’m interested to learn about the possibilities and economical and cultural impact of these emerging categories.

Last year, we saw augmented reality and virtual reality take off. Where do you think these technologies are headed in 2017?


Ritesh Patel: We will continue to see the commercialization and popularization of VR. I suspect we will have the same amount of VR chatter as we did last year as more and more companies push to consumerize the technology. AR not so much.


Chris Cullmann: AR and VR are quickly beginning to find their stride in a broader market. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have all planted flags on niche subsets of virtualized space. From my perspective, augmented reality presents a much more interesting opportunity. Ranging from smartphone-based solutions, our connected homes, to our cars, augmented reality will be able to make incremental steps to overlay information and have technology intervene for safety, convenience, and greater efficiencies.

With so much happening at SXSW, what makes for a standout idea among all the noise?


Ritesh Patel: Go hang out on the lawn of the Four Seasons Hotel and meet the people there and chat with them. That’s where the real conversation is happening.


Chris Cullmann: I think that is for each individual to decide. Even for people observing SXSW remotely, there are so many unveilings and so much sharing. The value of each announcement is in how it can move forward with the attendees and those watching the space.

How do events like SXSW stimulate creativity for healthcare marketers?


Ritesh Patel: It opens the mind to what is possible!


Austin Wei: When you focus so intently on one industry, it is often refreshing to get a palate cleanser and step outside of one’s comfort zone. SXSW allows attendees to see parallels to struggles in other industries and see how other companies attack these problems. It provides a new vantage point and perspective for attendees and allows them to look at a familiar problem in a new way.


Kyle Grazia: The whole event, everything new and new possibilities; just seeing what else we can do—how everything is connected and working together.


Chris Cullmann: Just like healthcare, the palette of sessions, talks, and talent at SXSW is a complicated tapestry. I like to think that a good healthcare marketer will draw from beyond the industry and pull innovation from both market changes and individual passion areas. To that point, SXSW is an embarrassment of riches in dialogue, inspiration, and sharing of ideas and solutions.