3 Marketing Lessons from the Lady Booed Out of SXSW

Want to make sure your online business isn’t sending bad vibes? Read this article to learn how to encourage customer cheers and avoid major jeers.

This week I had the awesome opportunity to attend this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival in our hometown of Austin, Texas. Better known as “South by,” SXSW Interactive celebrates the latest in digital technology, marketing and branding (not to mention free drinks and parties).

As a local, I’m a little immune to it all, so I was fully content to just learn more about social media. And while I learned amazing things from the sessions I attended, the biggest takeaway came from an unexpected moment at the end of a panel discussion.

For some background, this discussion was packed with people – so many that I was sitting on the floor. For the first 45 minutes, the panel was business as usual. But when Q&A began, disaster struck as a petite woman stepped to the microphone. (Name of woman and company have been altered to prevent further embarrassment.) 

Woman: “Hi my name is Jill Jones and I work for ABC Digital Consulting. If you’re looking for help with your social media marketing…”

Panelist Moderator: “Just questions, please. What can we answer for you?”

Woman: “Please come talk to me. We offer strategic planning, monitoring services…”

Panelist #1: “No pitching allowed. Give us your question or step away from the mike.”

Woman: “All at a very affordable rate!”

Annoyed Crowd: “BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

Panelist #2: Congratulations, Jill. No one in this room will ever use your services.”

(Exit Jill Jones to the full applause of the audience.)

So why does this woman’s humiliation matter to you? It’s quite simple: she highlighted three major lessons of any marketing campaign.

Here’s what I mean:

Lesson #1: Don’t Open Your Mouth without Knowing Your Audience

To be honest, several SXSW attendees are tech geeks with big egos. But for the most part, everyone is focused on learning new tactics to drive value back to their business. Had Jill known this, she would’ve never blatantly plugged her services in front of 1) such an influential panel of experts and 2) 450+ people not wanting to hear a sales pitch.

So before you open your mouth (i.e. launch a new social media campaign, send an email to your customers, etc.), take a step back and think about who you’re talking to. What information do they want to receive? How do they want that information delivered? In what way does your audience want to interact with said information?

In other words, before you publish any communications, think about the most basic elements of your message – the who, what, when, where and why.

Lesson #2: Earn Your Plug

Have you ever watched celebrity interviews on late night talk shows? If so, you’ll notice that the host asks their guest questions for about 80% of the segment and, in return, the celebrity gets a short plug for their upcoming movie.

The same concept holds true for Jill. If she had earned her plug, her speech may have gone something like this:

“Hi, my name is Jill Jones and I run a social media management firm called ABC Digital Consulting. I was curious to know how you see the new interest graph, primarily based from Pinterest, affecting the type of data that clients using social media agencies would like to receive?”

See how in this case Jill offered value to her audience? Since the crowd would have received timely, relevant information from her question, we would have been much more open to hearing about her business.

Thus, when communicating with customers, be sure to earn your plug by providing value, whether it’s through education, entertainment or enticing offers. If you’re offering value 80% of the time, customers will be open to a sales pitch the other 20%.

Lesson #3: First Impressions Count

I have to admit that I felt bad for Jill, especially when the panelist said that no one in the room would ever use her services. It’s true, though – despite the fact that the audience was full of people looking for help, not a soul talked to her after the catastrophe. In other words, instead of being seen as a seasoned professional, Jill Jones will always be the woman who got booed out of SXSW.

The takeaway here is to always think about first impressions when it comes to your business, even beyond your website. Yes, site design is critical, but what if someone is introduced to your brand through a networking event? Better make sure that you have a polished elevator pitch and a nice business card. Same applies to your emails, social media channels, print pieces, etc. Each marketing material reflects your brand, so always aim for a positive reaction.


As a recap, before you embark on any marketing activity, be sure to: consider your audience, earn your plug and consider first impressions.

If not, you might find yourself sitting on a curb next to Jill in downtown Austin.

Happy selling!
-Matt Winn, Social Media Manager, Volusion


Matt Winn is Volusion’s Senior Brand Manager, where he helps oversee the organization’s branding and communications efforts. Matt has created hundreds of articles, videos and seminars on all things ecommerce, ranging from online marketing to web design and customer experience. Beyond being a certified nerd, Matt is an avid college football fan, enthusiastic home cook and a self-admitted reality TV junkie.

19 Responses to “3 Marketing Lessons from the Lady Booed Out of SXSW”

  1. Jo Bax

    Sounds like Jill could also use some lessons on LISTENING and following directions, especially after being told twice to stop pitching her company. Wonder how successful her business really is, does she listen to her clients that well?

  2. Lauren

    Hi Matt,

    great points, everyone in business should take note of these, outside of my business I run I am the CFO of a firm and have been having quite a few stalkedin incidents recently, there must be someone in the area peddling social media sessions on connecting with people, I have been receiving numerous requests from individuals from various financial institutions to connect with me on linkedin, I perceive this as the precursor to a hard sell from these individuals I have never met before and for that reason I wont be adding them to my linkedin network and not that they will never know it, I recently requested tenders for new financial services providers and I can guarantee you none of those people or their organisations were sent a copy of the EOI/tender document, I only add people to linkedin that I have had dealings with, and there are other ways to introduce yourself to me than stalkedin, in short they clearly didnt know me their audience, I dont appreciate their tactics or being a statistic on their LinkedIn network to prove they have been “networking”, their first impression is dreadful and for that they are never going to get a chance to earn their plug!

    Thanks again for another insightful article

    • Matt

      Hi Lauren, love the “stalkedin” reference! I also get annoyed when people add me on LinkedIn that I’ve never met or spoken to, either digitally or in person. While the idea of networking is a good one in most cases, it’s all about building relationships and not numbers on a profile, like you mentioned. Thanks for reading – hope it helped!

  3. Bettina Lambert

    It’s fortuitous that this article would cross my path, now. I’m minutes away from launching my website, and as I work on photos to upload, a pop-up occasionally asks me if I want to publish this photo(piece of jewelry to Facebook. I often say yes, but wonder if my friends on Facebook are turned off by me using this social network to promote the upcoming site. I think I will say NO next time, and just announce the opening when I’m ready. Maybe my “friends” will post my products, but I shouldn’t.
    I’ve been to SXSW and screened a doc there a couple of years ago. The spirit of it is creative, artistic and down to earth. It’s not some corporate networking forum(although important things happen for the very lucky participants). Art and commerce is tricky business!

  4. Matt Kurke

    Randy Rice is spot on: I hate following an interesting informative discussion only to find the occasional comment saying, “I discuss exactly these issues in my book that you can purchase at…” Ciro Adams told me a few years ago about when he took a staff member to an important meeting and on the way told the staff member to be the last one to talk. “Listen, learn about the issues, so you can then add intelligently,” he advised. Nonetheless the staff member opened his flaps immediately and was so far off base then he wasn’t invited back. Rich Callahan was perhaps my first mentor. He was the first to tell me that a professional is not known by the answers he gives but by the questions he asks.

    • Matt

      Hi Matt, very awesome insight here “a professional is not known by the answers he gives but by the questions he asks.” Very cool. Thanks for reading! -Matt W.

  5. Lisa Cooper

    This is my first Volusion newsletter, so I almost didn’t read it because I thought–like most company-based newsletters– it would be full of fluff with an overdone pitch at the end. Instead, I was happily surprised to find a fantastic piece, full of information that I can not only use, but also that I really need right now. Thanks for the great post!

    • Matt

      Hi Lisa, glad you liked it! Feel free to check out our blog and Facebook page for more articles and advice. Thanks for reading! -Matt

  6. Khaled

    Hi Matt,
    I thought I’d relate my experience with a similar situation. I listen to a national (Australian) , publicly funded radio station not dissimilar to NPR in the US. The host sometimes has talkback sessions where people call in with questions about things that puzzle them and other listeners are invited to call in with answers/explanations.

    I’m an Electrical Engineer with a strong background in digital audio and this lead me to startup a small company designing and building my own speakers from some unusual materials. Someone called in with a question about digital audio. I immediately rang up offered to answer their question, using my knowledge of the field. I was having trouble promoting my business and I thought I could use this as an opportunity to get it out there. When I called the producer answered. She was very polite but said, while I can answer the other listener’s question, they are non-commercial and I am not allowed to mention the name of my business. I accepted this and thought I’d just help out, anyway.

    When I was put on air the host asked me about my background and then asked me about the particular question the listener had. I told him about my qualifications and interest in audio but I didn’t talk about my business, then I gave a detailed and definitive answer to the question posed. The host thanked me and complimented me on the depth of my knowledge in this field. I was ready to hang up but then something unusual happened. He asked me to talk about my speaker business! The producer must have been impressed because she’s the only one I told about the business and she must have communicated it to him. I tentatively told him about the technology and science I was using and he asked me more about it, effectively teasing out a plug for my business, without making it look like a commercial. I could see what he was doing and was gobsmacked by his generosity as I knew it was not allowed but I guess he was impressed by my generous answer – which is all he wanted in the first place.

    So I can personally attest to what you have written above.

    As usual, your article is concise and informative. Thanks mate.

    • Matt

      Hi Khaled,

      Thanks for reading! Your story just goes to show that if you provide your audience with something of major value, they’ll inherently want to learn more about your business because they trust you and your expertise. It’s all about making connections.

      Beyond sharing your generous answer, thanks for generously sharing your experience with us. Keep them coming!


  7. John Hartman

    So, a spoon full of sugar does help the medicine go down after all.

  8. Alexis 'The Ad_Poole'

    Another spin on “earning your plug”…when you give your audience something to think about, their minds are open, they’re accessing all cortices of their brains and they’re less likely to view your “plug” as a plug. Think about it! When we watch re-runs of shows and we know when TV commercials are going to come on, some of us mute the TV. When we repeatedly visit websites and we know when that pop-up is going to interrupt our view, we turn it into a race to press the little X in the upper corner. In similar ways, people KNOW when they’re being sold, especially if you begin the way Jill did. So if you start of by earning your plug, you throw off your viewer/reader/customer just enough to hit them with that important 20% that they just can’t live without.

    Thank you for this article! It’s been a real eye-opener that allow us all to conscientiously avoid those potholes that spilled Jill’s coffee.

    • Matt

      Hi Alexis, this is a very great point! Definitely a good insight into the psychology of “earning your plug.” In my experience, earning your plug is nothing more than earning trust with your audience, which is a critical foundation for any type of sales conversion.

      Thanks for reading! Appreciate the feedback.


  9. Ben Randolph

    I was there and completely agree with your observations. Great article.

    • Matt

      Hi Ben, crazy, wasn’t it? Sorry I missed you at the event. Thanks for reading! -Matt

  10. Randy Rice

    Wow, this sounds like someone’s LinkedIn etiquette gone live. The reason I mention LinkedIn specifically, is that this is essentially how it comes off there as well. Some groups I belong to are (unfortunately) nothing but these kinds of “comments”, so I may read the highlights but never go there or contact the person. Thanks for the blog post!


    • Matt

      Hi Randy, thanks for reading! Agreed that several LinkedIn groups have totally lost their value due to spammy salespeople. Depending on the group, there are usually some valuable bits of information, but definitely hard to dig through the muck!

  11. Xina

    This is VERY useful. I was caught out like this when I called into the Vanessa Feltz radio show in the UK. She asked me what my business was called and I started out by stating the URL, she said “I didn’t ask about the website” I told her that it was a web only business so, luckily, she calmed down and I was able to continue the conversation.

    • Matt

      Yikes! So glad that you were able to keep the conversation going. Just goes to show how sensitive some people, especially media-minded folks, can be to self-promotion. Thanks for reading, and best of luck! -Matt


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