The last time I was at SXSW, it was year 2000. I convinced my ad agency bosses that as a copywriter on the Dell account, it was imperative that they send me AND my art director partner (the extraordinary Enrique Mosqueda) out to Austin to investigate all this interactive hoopla.
To put things in perspective, these were the days when we were making ads for PC’s that played music (replace your stereo!) and “Workstations” with “RDRAM technology, dual processor capability and a 133MHz front side bus.” (I can assure you no one in our company had the faintest idea what a front side bus was.)
At SXSW that year, there was a panel on something revolutionary called a Weblog. Epinions.com had just come out of preview mode. And panelists spoke of a future where Broadband would make it possible “to watch videos on our Palm Pilots and beam them to friends.”
And there was a group of cool kids who called themselves Content Strategists. These were the copywriters of the future, it seemed—the ones who would still have jobs in the foreseeable future. They lived in San Francisco, slept in late, worked from home or cafes, were incredibly well spoken and making tons of money. Some of them had blue hair. All of them wore jeans. (I have torn apart our office to no avail in search of my business card from 2001 with the title of “Content Strategist” printed in a glamorous shade of black. Enrique even jazzed it up with ironic lo-fi black square dots. No doubt it is in an old coin purse with expired credit cards, chinese fortunes and cute boys’ phone numbers pre-husband.)
Back in NY, agency folks from junior AE’s to group directors started jumping ship, trading the agency’s pristine environment of glass, leather and steel, where fresh flowers sat on reception desks of the agency’s 15 floors, for poorly ventilated one-room startups stuffed with desks, computers, bean bag chairs and boxes full of dotcom t-shirts. They traded print ads and press checks for banners and HTML, which they learned from Webmonkey cheat sheets.
Back then, we weren’t sure who would be left standing once the glitter inside the Silicon Alley snow globe settled. But we copywriters were adding “content strategist” to our business cards just in case. Even if we had no idea what it meant to be a “content strategist.”
Here we are 10 years later. I’m a partner of a content agency, which means I’ll be footing my own bill to SXSW 2010 (goodbye Driskill, hello Sheraton). Ian will be speaking about web content. And everyone will be talking about the iPad and its promise to bring our favorite magazines back from the dead. Looking forward to 2020, when all of next week’s excited chatter will seem just as archaic as that “front side bus.”