Another 10 days of SXSW madness have come and gone in Austin, Texas, but what’s going to stick around? I talked to GSD&Mers who went head-first into panels, activations and more to learn about what stood out in all the noise this year.

Overall, we saw three themes of success:

  1. Brands should prioritize authenticity over flashiness.
  2. Brands should be different and distinct in a world of experiential sameness.
  3. Usually, the simplest ideas are the best.

Keep reading for more SXSW smarts straight from the experiences of our people.


Jay Esteves, experience strategist

What brand activation worked?

The Comcast/NBC Universal house had fun and simple shareable moments that people were happy to wait in line for. From Michael Scott’s desk straight from The Office, to a professional modeling photo experience by Project Runway, people got to interact with shows they know and love.

#1 Takeaway

“Method doesn’t matter. It’s the effect.” Technology is developing and becoming cooler every day, but we can still create immersive experiences in scrappy ways.


Tori Ciniglio, jr. writer

What was your favorite panel and why?

In a discussion with venture capitalist, Roger McNamee, on the topic of big corporations and data, he discussed how their business models are a misuse of our trust and will ultimately affect future laws and elections. His most important takeaway was to focus this power on the good that we can do (e.g. birthday donations on Facebook) as a society before it’s too late.

Best musical discovery

Good Heavensthey’re an upbeat, beachy, indie-rock band who put on a lively and super fun show.


Harper Biewen, jr. art director

What was your favorite panel and why?

My favorite panel was a discussion between musician Brandi Carlile and actor Elisabeth Moss where they compared and contrasted their creative processes in their respective industries. It made me realize we all have rituals and tools that spark our creativity and allow us to be better storytellers.

#1 Takeaway

SXSW taught me that 1) I know nothing, and 2) women run the world.


Elizabeth Thompson, VP, group strategy director

What activation worked?

The Good Omens activation for the new Amazon Prime original show was well thought out and conceptual without feeling complicated. Details like “Heaven” or “Hell” bracelets, puppies labeled as “Hell Hounds in Training” and the Tree of Eden bar gave a sense for the show without making me feel like I was being sold something.

Best musical discovery:

Yola. Tyler Ramsey. Cautious Clay. Novo Amor.


Evan Walker, associate media director

What was your favorite panel and why?

“Immersive Marketing: Beyond the Instagram Palace” discussed the importance of creating authentic experiences, like the trend of “fantasy worlds,” because consumers are more prone to feel an emotional connection. In turn, we see social posts happen organically and consumers will capture unique parts of their individual experiences.

#1 Takeaway

Whatever it is, keep it authentic.


Valerie Furgerson, JR. strategist

What was your favorite panel and why?

During “Milk Bar: Innovation in Pursuit of the Unexpected,” chef and founder of Milk Bar, Christina Tosi, spoke about remaining relevant without losing authenticity. It’s about trying and failing, trying and iterating and ultimately creating a unique experience that stays true to the brand.

#1 Takeaway

It’s not about “experiential” per se, it’s about doing something different and distinct.


Well, you heard it here first straight from our experts. Be genuine and get genuine responses in return, don’t be afraid to stand out and at the end of the day, simplicity wins. We’re beyond lucky to live in the heart of Austin where we can walk outside of our doors, soak up this knowledge and bring it right back in. From how we’re telling stories in First & Only ways to finding room to do good using our strengths in advertising, our people are already activating what SXSW 2019 taught us.

Until next year, SXSW!


Another year has come and gone, so it felt like the right time to reflect on all of the goodness that came out of GSD&M. 2018 was filled with game-changing work, much-needed conversations, well-deserved celebrations and, of course, so much good music. I somehow managed to narrow down what I believe to be GSD&M’s finest moments to 11 highlights and one playlist. Keep reading for a glimpse into last year.

Harry’s: A Man Like You

Breaking stereotypes and creating a cultural conversation around media’s portrayal of masculinity, the Harry’s short film was a breakthrough way of storytelling for a men’s grooming brand. The work even earned a Cannes Lions for film and a Glass Lion for change.

GSD&M Party at SXSW 2018

We gathered thousands of our closest friends, community members and partners in our backyard for the 8th Annual GSD&M Party featuring White Reaper, Durand Jones & The Indications, Pale Waves and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and we’re ready to do it again!

Time’s Up/Advertising

Alongside 200 female leaders in advertising, GSD&M’s President, Marianne Malina, was a founding member of Time’s Up/Advertising™. GSD&M helped lead the movement of saying “time’s up” on inequality in our industry and fronted a launch event across 14 cities in North America and Canada.


Winning Jack Link’s + Retaining U.S. Air Force

We took a break from our desks and gathered in the backyard to celebrate all of the hard work that led to winning our new client, Jack Link’s, and retaining our 17-year client, U.S. Air Force, for another 10 great years.

ITMAD 2018

From futurists to improv teachers and leading chocolate connoisseurs, GSD&M brought in the brightest minds inside and outside of Austin to inspire and discuss what it means to create ideas that make a difference.

Winning Pizza Hut

We welcomed our newest client, Pizza Hut, with champagne, and of course, PIZZA!

GSD&M Presents: Jared & The Mill

Arizona folk rockers, Jared & The Mill, stopped by while on tour to play some acoustic versions of their latest jams.

Free the Bid

In order to continue the mission of creating more diverse and meaningful work, GSD&M pledged to Free the Bid and put more women editors and directors on projects.

Halloween at GSD&M

As an office of creatives, we don’t take Halloween lightly. From The Shining Twins to Guy Fieri, this year’s costume contest was far from overrated.

Popeyes Emotional Support Chicken

The TSA-friendly, emotional support animal you can eat, Popeyes’ Emotional Support Chicken, took the media by storm. Appearing in Cosmopolitan,, USA Today and much more, everyone ate it up, quite literally.

GSD&M Holiday Card: Austin Pets Alive!

This year, we used our annual holiday card to give back to our local animal shelter, Austin Pets Alive! Including an 18-foot “wishlist tree”, donations from employees, a takeover, and a card sent to our favorite family, friends and clients, our holiday initiative raised tons of awareness, funds, and shelter necessities, and gave every animal a blanket to keep warm this winter.

And to top it all off, here’s a comprehensive playlist featuring every song from GSD&M’s monthly playlists in 2018.

If last year is any indication of how 2019 will go, I’d say we have a lot to look forward to.

We’re a month away from SXSW. Yep, that’s right—the week that fills our streets with music, people and even more booze and food than usual. Deep breaths. For those of us who embrace the madness with open arms, we caught up with both GSD&M’s SXSW vets and new mavens to get the best tips, tricks and tracks for SXSW 2018. Spoiler alert: playlist included.


Name: Bill Bayne

Years attending SXSW: 15

Pro tip: When there are a few bands I don’t know on a lineup, I’ll stay in that venue to experience their show versus running all over town with a schedule.

Must-see band: Quiet Slang. More commonly known as Beach Slang, they’re reimagining their Replacements-y gnashed catalog into a softer vibe played with piano and cello.


Name: Mason Endres

Years attending SXSW: 5

Pro tip: Never plan for things to go as planned. If you make a schedule, it’s not going to happen.

Must-see band: The Magic Gang, Sunflower Bean and Jared & The Mill.


Name: David Rockwood

Years attending SXSW: 25 whole years

Pro tip: Random is way better than planning.

Must-see band: BRONCHO


Name: Candi Clem

Years attending SXSW: 1

Pro tip: Stay hydrated. Take advantage of networking opportunities.

Must-see band: My favorite artists at SXSW are the ones I haven’t discovered yet.


Name: Jack Epsteen

Years attending SXSW: 8, I think?

Pro tip: Don’t overschedule, let the day and night guide you. And most of all, NO FOMO.

Must-see band: Ratboys!


Name: Rye Clifton

Years attending SXSW: 7, I think

Pro tip: Go alone. It is a lot easier to sneak in places when you aren’t part of a group.

Must-see band: The Fantastic Plastics


Name: Elizabeth Thompson

Years attending SXSW: At least 12?! How is that possible? Does 10 make me sound younger?

Pro tip: Forego fashion for function when it comes to shoes, and attend the events you love, even if your friends don’t.

Must-see band: The best I can do, so far, is local favorite David Ramirez, Will Varley, Peach Pit, The Yellow Traffic Light, a TBD beautiful crooner at St. David’s church during the Communion Showcase.


It seems as though there’s a general consensus that going with the flow of SXSW is the most fun and effective way to make it through the chaos—that, and comfortable shoes. Aside from the tips and tricks, there is a playlist with all of the above musical suggestions and then some.


Happy festing!

And so another year of SXSW has come and gone. We here at GSD&M find ourselves reflecting on all of the great music artists that graced our backyard, hallways and our hearts. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine we call this place work.

To commemorate all of the wonderful sights and sounds, we created individual pieces of art for every artist to sign for the agency and to take home for themselves as well.

There were no boundaries to this project except to have each designer visually create their own interpretation of the artist they were assigned.

Here’s a look into the inspiration behind some of the artists’ respective pieces:

Laura Guardalabene, Jr. Designer (Eliot Sumner)

“Much of Eliot Sumner’s dark electro-rock tracks have an angsty sadness to them while remaining uptempo and danceable. She has an androgynous, masculine tone to her voice and often sings about relationships, sexuality, uncertainty and alienation. Sumner doesn’t identify as any gender and is part of the current gender fluidity movement. This poster represents intertwining genders and breaking traditional hetero-normative barriers. It plays with masculinity and femininity by juxtaposing soft fluid shapes with angular geometric forms. There is inherent tension to the piece and at the same time balance to it.”

Ben Harman, Assoc. Design Director (Ghostland Observatory)

“After a few years on hiatus, Ghostland Observatory would soon be headlining our annual GSD&M party during SXSW. After considering various visual elements to include in the design, we decided on the following: an abstract phoenix rising out of the dust to symbolize Ghostland’s reemergence into the music scene; a modernized Native American illustration style and color palette, reflecting the stylistic influences of lead singer Aaron Behrens; and lasers (an essential part of any Ghostland show).”

Summer Ortiz, Studio Artist (The Heavy)

“The Heavy’s music is energetic and fun and felt very colorful to me. The band seems to have cultivated a really cool, vintage-inspired style, and I wanted to incorporate both those elements into the poster I made for them. I came up with the idea of a colorful, fun house party scenario just waiting for them, existing in contrast to the quiet, muted surroundings.”

Adriane Joseph, Presentation Production Artist (Joseph)

“Joseph is labeled as ‘dark, folk-pop.’ Their style conveys a sense of feeling most at home when surrounded by nature up in the Pacific Northwest, where the three sisters who make up Joseph are from. Their sound is folksy and delicate with a subtle haunting vibe. For these reasons I was drawn to the idea of an overgrown forest floor with the band’s name carved into a tree. The colors are earthy and muted with pockets of pink and yellow to add just a touch of femininity.”

We had all different kinds of creative cloth pitch in, and in the end, it left us with 13 wildly different directions of visual thought. That’s the beauty of music and art—they’re always in bed together. Giving you either adoration for the ear or love for the eyes.

A quick shout out to all of the artists that made this project possible and such a success. Thank you.

Summer Ortiz, Studio Artist
Frank Benavides, Creative Intern
Laura Guardalabene, Jr. Designer
Steve Wolf, Designer
Adriane Joseph, Presentation Production Artist
Greg Thomas, Designer
Dustin Coffey, Assoc. Design Director
Ben Harman, Assoc. Design Director
Ryan Warner, Art Director

It’s that time of year again. Filmmakers, musicians, thought-leaders and entrepreneurs gather in Austin, Texas to share their talent and ideas, all while keeping Austin weird.

Here at GSD&M, we take SXSW seriously. We throw an enormous party, attend countless panels and participate in as many events as possible during the week. This is a conference that reflects so many values our company stands for – curiosity, restlessness and community, just to name a few.

So, I wanted to invite you into knowing why SXSW is so valuable to us. Here are some notable reasons why we remain involved in the conference year after year.

Drinking from Firehoses

“SXSW is one of the things that makes Austin, Austin. It’s an incredibly unique time that brings together minds that can solve the world’s biggest problems, create Oscar-winning feats in film and unite generations with music. It reminds me that there’s no one right way to solve a problem and that our little advertising world is barely a fraction of what’s interesting in culture. No other festival gives you such a varied Austin experience or a ‘drink from the firehose’ dose of inspiration.”

–Elizabeth Thompson, Strategy Director


Not your Average Trade Show

“It’s never the same experience. Some years I’ve left wanting to leverage new technologies and some years I’ve incorporated new thinking into things we are already doing, or been armed with information that brought about change. For me it’s the best week to really absorb what is happening in the digital space.”

“For the agency, we benefit from having a flood of energized employees with new ideas. There is always a great vibe after SXSW and you can really see those individual takeaways make their way into the work for the remainder of the year and beyond.”

 “As for Austin, it’s a huge economy boost. However, I think there is also a sense of pride that comes with being able to say that for two weeks the best, brightest and most talented people in the interactive and entertainment space choose to come to our city and share knowledge. I’ve been to various trade shows but this isn’t that. It’s a platform for knowledge and talent sharing that I’ve never experienced elsewhere.”

–Amy Torres, Digital Producer

 It’s in the Bag

“SXSW means the best concentration of innovation, music and film from all over the country. For the agency, it means all of this is in your backyard, so embrace it and dive in.  For Austin, it’s a mixed bag. It means traffic woes, long lines, next to impossible dinner options and a shit load of tax revenue.  One of the best parts of SXSW is the discovery of things around the corner.  You have to get out and wander to find it but it’s always new and different. Walk around the convention center and listen or join in on conversations taking place inside or outside the many panel sessions.  Walk around outside the convention center and do the same.  Walk down 6th between Congress and 35 and see the freak show spectacle during music. It’s guaranteed to be more exciting than the last Mad Max sequel.”

–David Rockwood, VP/Community Relations

Conversation Convergence

“SXSW is the one time of year where the internet shows up at our front door in person. Literally, the people you watch, read, and enjoy online end up roaming around town for a week. A lot of the time I get more out of the conversations and relationships that are built than the panels themselves (though they can be great too).”

–Rye Clifton, Experience Director 


What happens at SXSW wakes up the minds of all involved, from panel participants to concert goers. It’s fuel to GSD&Mers who take away ideas that shape their work and lives.

Some of our favorite ads of all time owe their awesomeness to the music supervisor working diligently behind the scenes to secure the perfect track. During SXSW, our VP/Community (and wearer of many hats including music supervisor) David Rockwood met up with the guys at Jingle Punks to talk music and advertising.


It’s been a busy few weeks here in Austin, with SXSW Interactive and the 4A’s Transformation conference taking place back to back. While attending these events and learning about the latest-and-greatest in technology, innovation and creativity, I must admit I did the unthinkable — I let my phone die.

I’ll start by saying that “let” is a loose term. My phone is on its last leg, and perhaps I’m not quite careful enough about charging it. Point being there were dozens of areas around the conferences to plug in and charge back up if I wanted. But I didn’t.

At first, my decision not to recharge seemed questionable.

Oh no, how will I get this free t-shirt if my phone is dead and I can’t tweet about it (the requirement for getting the t-shirt)?

Turns out, the girl running the contest was quite understanding. Since I couldn’t tweet about it we chatted instead, and I ended up “pinky promising” her I would tweet later. Definitely haven’t pinky promised since 2001 (win).

How will I look up the panel information ahead of time?

With no phone, I couldn’t re-read up on the speakers and panels. Instead, I was excited all over again as each speaker and topic was introduced. While other people texted, browsed, or posted throughout the talks, I gave my full attention since I had no distractions. I even took some notes…using a pen and paper.

What time is it?!

Asking strangers for the time may not be an ideal conversation starter, but it led me to meet some interesting people. I wound up meeting a guy who managed to sneak into all the SXSW badge-only events without a badge, and a woman who lived on the same city as my sister.

Ok, so my phone died twice in one week, big deal.

But it was kind of a big deal. At these conferences about interacting and connecting, there is wonderful technology everywhere and a lot of people using it to connect. But for me, disconnecting was an unexpectedly positive experience. In my last panel of the day at SX the speaker stated: “Our cell phones know we are all in this room.”

Everyone’s did except for mine. Because it was dead. Which turns out was, actually, kind of cool.

By Summer Ortiz, Studio Artist

SXSW can be overwhelming—one moment you’re having your mind blown by an insightful panelist and the next you’re walking by a giant squirrel reading a book. Sometimes sketching things out is the best way to take it all in. Here are some visuals about life, liberty and the pursuit of SXSW by first-time attendee Studio Artist Summer Ortiz.


SXSW Essentials. #sxsw #gsdm #illustration #drawing #sketch

A photo posted by Summer (@signifyingnot) on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:15am PDT

SXSW is not conducive to a large personal bubble. #sxsw #gsdm #illustration #drawing #sxsketch

A photo posted by Summer (@signifyingnot) on Mar 14, 2015 at 10:34am PDT

UX meets animation. #sxsw #gsdm #panel #uxchoreography #ux #illustration #sxsketch #disney #sketch #doodle

A photo posted by Summer (@signifyingnot) on Mar 15, 2015 at 10:39am PDT

The Glasses of SXSWi. #sxsw #gsdm #sxsketch #illustration #drawing #sketch #doodle

A photo posted by Summer (@signifyingnot) on Mar 15, 2015 at 10:42am PDT

Innovation. #sxsw #gsdm #advocacy #advocate #illustration #drawing #type

A photo posted by Summer (@signifyingnot) on Mar 16, 2015 at 11:29am PDT


I’ve nearly always been a planner, relished sketching out the blow-by-blow for any given day, vacation or event, seeking the best way to optimize my enjoyment of the experience at hand. Then I had kids. And yes, I still do a lot of planning for things directly related to my job of course and select household projects, but my energy and thrill for strict insistence on planning for everything seems to have faded on multiple levels over the last several years.

Cut scene to my second-ever SXSW conference today. In my defense, I was given my formal registration late…as in…Thursday. I kept meaning to glance over the panels and different events before arriving at the Convention Center Saturday morning…but well, I chose to put out my fires at work and then play with my kids when I was home instead. So it felt almost alien to arrive for badge pickup and truly have no idea where I was heading after I tossed it round my neck. Those who have always been carefree souls will laugh at my discomfort as I tried to follow in their footsteps nonchalantly, pretending that this knot of anxiety and uncertainty had not suddenly welled up in my belly. And then I suddenly decided, “!*%& it, where will the day take me?” Cut to anyone who has known me for many years crying “Scandal!”

And I started strolling around the convention center, relishing all the people watching, accents and energy already in motion. I casually passed the PBSAnywhere Lounge hosting…Cookie Monster. So I went in and kissed Cookie Monster. (Call me a hussy.) I started toward a panel I was mildly interested in, feeling pangs of guilt about not jumping right in, but then realized I should save my brain for the panels that really leapt out at me and that I was really hungry. So I stopped and ate at this awesome BBQ stand that seemed to just materialize beside me, my anxiety lessening with the assistance of berry cobbler.

The remainder of the day passed in a similarly fluid manner. I attended a responsive design discussion, and though the hosts were entertaining, I was most engaged by the nice woman who let me take the open seat beside her before everything began. I chose to chat with her beforehand instead of Googling the panelists’ bios. I wandered downtown observing visitors and the various installations that had popped up for the event. I went with the flow.

I scanned the afternoon schedule and was intrigued by the Girl Power(ed) panel due to the onslaught of media coverage of late about the gender gaps in the high-tech sector. I followed my instincts and am so glad I did. The panel discussion was lively and featured three women openly sharing their passion for their respective tech fields and the particular challenges they have navigated. When Girl Power(ed) closed, I stood to leave but noticed the next session in the room was She’s a C-Word! Lessons from Tech’s C-Suite Women. How can you not attend a panel with ovaries enough to craft a title like that? So in the zone of the women in tech topic, I sat right back down. Moderated by Re/Code’s Kara Swisher and filled with female executives steeped in the rigors of life in Silicone Valley, the discussion that unfolded about mentorship, female leadership and the critical importance of diversity to a company’s ultimate bottom line was one of best panels I’ve ever seen. Ultimately, I think my interest in the gender diversity challenge of tech is rooted in reality of the witnessing the diversity gaps that exist in advertising and marketing as well. Many industries suffer from a “disease of homogeneity” for lack of more eloquence, and I am happy about the attention shining on our sisters in tech because I think these high-profile discussions will inform our own domain.

What I am most happy about though, is how for at least today, I threw my hands up in the air and let the SXSW wind take me where it may. It was liberating, and I think more true to what the spirit of SXSW was years ago. Much better than my previous festival attendance certainly, and I plan to do the same thing again…tomorrow.

A perfect SXSW day to each and all!

It was a long few weeks of welding, soldering, coding, recoding and music mixing. And despite a few close encounters with a blowtorch, we did it. On November 7, Beat Bikes launched at Fun Fun Fun Fest.

Earlier this year, Austin B-cycle, the bike-sharing system here in Austin, enlisted the help of GSD&M. Since then, we’ve been intent on transforming Austin B-cycle into an Austin institution. Like the bike-sharing equivalent of breakfast tacos. Or roller derby. Or chicken $#!% bingo. You get the idea.

As a part of this plan, we set out to expand Austin B-cycle’s presence at Austin’s festival circuit. So we collaborated with our friends at Dell to invent something the world had never seen. We call it an interactive pedal-operated, beat-switching, music mash-up machine. Or if you’re into catchy titles, Beat Bikes. (more…)