Video Series: Q&A with SMS Thought Leader Scott McNearney of SXSW

Scott McNearney is the Director of Global Sponsorship at SXSW and is at the forefront of the sponsorship industry. We are thrilled to announce today that he’ll be speaking at this year’s Sponsorship Mastery Summit. For nearly 20 years, Scott has led the concept and executions of hundreds of sponsorship programs with the world’s largest brands. He is well known for creating unique activations that connect the sponsor and the consumer in authentic ways.

Paula Beadle: Scott, we were all watching SXSW very closely in March when the cancellation was announced. And I imagine you have lots of stories to tell about that entire experience. But what I’m really curious about today, and I think the audience would like to hear is how did you reach out to your sponsors and how were they reacting during that time?

Scott McNearney: Well we were in regular communication with our partner brands who were asking us, how bringing in attendees for more than a hundred countries, would work out. We were trying to listen to health authorities throughout, we had a plan to produce SXSW right up until when it was canceled, which I believe was, Friday, March 6th. I believe. As we talked and the closer and closer and things seems more and more uncertain, we started thinking about what would a cancellation mean, how can we prepare to produce the best SXSW as possible, which we’ve been working on for really a year, but also how do we pivot? And so trying to be open with partner brands, but, be realistic about what we can do. And then a big part of that was having some flexibility and willing to pivot based on what the right thing to do was.

Paula Beadle: I know that you’re really passionate about connecting brands with, SXSW innovators, such as the musical artists, right? And the filmmakers. Can you talk a little bit about what your creative approach is to making those connections?

Scott McNearney: My work is focused on brand partnerships and helping them get the best and the most out of their experience with SXSW, but the way that we’ve found greatest success overall over

the years is by connecting the interest and goals of the brands with the interests of the goals of creatives, as well as industry thought leaders impressed that come to SXSW, figuring out a way sometimes translating the sense between what a musical artist or another creative really wants and expects and what, you know, a major brand corporate brand wants and expects.

Paula Beadle: Do all of you get together really early in the, in the process? Is, is that really where it begins is having that collaborative meeting, where everyone is together, talking about the goals and objectives and sharing creative ideas. 

Scott McNearney: Yeah, as it pertains to brand engagements, that’s ideal. So we, in a normal year, we generally start in the fall with taking submissions for music showcases for film screenings and so forth. We’re operating on a branded partnership parallel path to SXSW programming content. Those 2000 bands that are perform on a hundred stages, the 350 films that are ultimately screened. And so those things are happening on parallel paths and it’s as early as we can bring together creatives and brand interests generally serves everyone’s interests the best.

Paula Beadle: Yeah, you’re well known for really creative and unique activations. And of course, you and Marques Jackson will be talking about partnerships, with those unique interactions and activations. And so I’m curious, do you have a couple of examples that you could share with us, that you’re particularly proud of around the creative activation that was done.

 Scott McNearney: One of the programs that received a great deal of press at the time was when American Express launched their Synch program. So, and the AMEX Synch program was a program that brought benefits to, to members that sync their card with, you know, Twitter platform to basically have a deeper experience with the brand and to receive, better opportunities and unique experiences. So we put together a Synch program where we engage through social media and many other channels, both on our end and the brand’s end. To promote the same platform, get users to engage and then onsite at SXSW, we produced and streamed live a Jay Z concert that was performed in front of around 2000 people screens worldwide, and that program overall got huge accolades. So registered streets that were card holders or who became cardholders and synched and their card with the new AMEX platform, were able to get two free tickets to that. So a lot of, interesting things. Lady Gaga with Doritos, doing a live performance of being a music, keynote, bringing emerging and emerging artists from the New York City music scene to open for her who were otherwise in most circles, while they’ve been around for a while, not that well known.

Paula Beadle:  Clearly, you’re working very collaboratively with your partners to understand those campaigns, those missions, how you’re connecting to what it is they’re trying to accomplish.

Scott McNearney: Yeah, that’s right. Internally at SXSW too, you know, it’s not a small organization and, our programmers, our messaging people really all need to be a part of working together to make those sorts of programs happen.

Paula Beadle: I’ve heard you say that when you’re building solutions for your sponsors, you’re looking for that authentic, ways you can deliver that authentic value. Can you tell me what that means to you and how do you create authentic value?

Scott McNearney: Conveying to the brands, who or what the brand is? Conveying how it matters or should matter to the attendees is really critical in their messaging campaign, we really encourage brands to think that way. We challenge ourselves to think about meaningful ways to bring these brands to life itself at SXSW but we also challenged the brands to think about, you know, okay, being able to answer the question as to why are you here? How are you relevant?

Paula Beadle: I’m really struck by how engaged you are with your partners. It feels like you’re an extension of their team, right? That you’re looking at the partnership and at the sponsorship benefits and the creative aspects, of the programs through, through their eyes, perhaps even more than through the eyes of SXSW, is that fair to say?

Scott McNearney: Well, of course, I’m, you know, I’m a company, man, but you know it’s personally important to me and my team takes great pride in helping brands find the greatest success. The reality from a business standpoint is that if they don’t have success, then they’re not going to come back.

Paula Beadle: That’s fantastic. Well, Scott I’d spend the rest of the afternoon. If it were up to me I’d love continuing this conversation with you. Really looking forward to, the audience, having an opportunity to engage with you and learn from you. At the Sponsorship Mastery Summit. Thank you so much for joining us. Thanks so much for your time today was really great to talk with you.

Scott McNearney: Thank you. I really appreciate it. Yeah. And I’m looking forward to participating here in the coming weeks and hopefully in real life together at SXSW 2021. And you know, at the Sponsorship Mastery Summit, hopefully in real life next year.


About the Summit: Sponsorship Mastery Summit will take place virtually and in select cities September 23rd and 24th, 2020. SMS is a powerful and immersive experience specifically for sponsorship sales leaders representing universities, parks and recreation, tourism, sports teams and events, fairs and festivals, venues, arts and cultural organizations. Attendees will collaborate with thought leaders, hear from big brands, exchange ideas and leave with best practices, actionable tools, valuable resources and new connections. Participants will attend interactive workshops, industry forums, big idea roundtables, and networking events. 


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