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The RSVP Economy: SXSW, Marketing and Your Email

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

If you’ve ever attended South by Southwest, then you know: Invitations to private events come fast and furious, and it’s hard to keep on top of them.

That’s where RSVPster comes in. It charges customers 30 to 40 bucks to respond to invitations to unofficial events during the SXSW Interactive and Music conferences. Though it’s the company’s third festival, founder Jennifer Sinski says it’s gotten its fair share of criticism since the service started.

“We’ve heard, ‘You’re ruining South By Southwest,’’ Sinski says. “I don’t think that’s true."

The service does lead to inflated guest lists at parties (the folks that sign up and don't show up), but the service is open with its resources, Sinski says. The RSVPster website lists all the unofficial events it knows about, for skeptics that won’t pony up for the service and want to go it alone.

The free publicity pleases event planners. But marketers are also eyeing RSVPster for its client list.

Matthew Childs is with Austin-based advertising firm GSD&M. He explains that RSVPster’s list of around 3,000 customer emails is a “lead” that marketers would pay dearly for. 

“The more qualified the lead, the more valuable it is," Childs says. "Different industries have different thresholds of what they’ll pay for a cost per lead, which is basically what an email address is.”

Childs says that SXSW marketers have a higher chance of success because of the festival’s young and impressionable crowd.

But socially-savvy SXSW attendees can make or break a marketing campaign. Childs says that the subtler campaigns typically fare well, tapping into more "experiential" marketing rather than all-out blitzes.

Regardless of strategy, that list would be a boon for any marketer outside the fest. But Sinski says she’s not selling any names.

“We’re basically just trying to make the festival easier and get people the information that they want and need," Sinski says. "I don’t want to go beyond that by creating, you know, hatred from me selling emails. It’s just the one time. You give us your email, we give it to the third-party websites, you’re done.”

Sinski suggested that festivalgoers use a non-work or personal email to avoid the confirmation, follow-up, countdown and post-SXSW emails that persist for weeks before and after the shows.

Meanwhile, Sinski’s list continues to grow.

This year, there’s been an increase in international customers, with folks from Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom signing up. And now, RSVPster has even spawned its own brand of knock-off. New companies like WillCall and even people on Tumblr are offering similar services.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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