How RPA used a simple idea to break through at SXSW
Breaking the mess of it all, let alone the cacophony of SXSW, is daunting. But by simply using an existing feature on the iPhone, the Los Angeles independent agency RPA caused a sensation in Austin in an unexpected way.
Using the phone’s AirDrop feature, the agency set out to make new friends and recruit new talent. Specifically targeting SXSW panels, which would be attended by a range of strong talent, RPA pinged attendees who had AirDrop on their phones with an image inviting them to a musical showcase with the band Frenship . In addition, those in the job market received messages inviting them to visit RPA’s local talent recruiters in Austin.
Leveraging the technology since people might not necessarily be running their AirDrop feature or having it set to receive media from everyone was a real risk but seemed to be paying off well for the agency.
“We must have done literally thousands of AirDrops over the course of two and a half days,” said Annie Elliott, associate creative director at RPA and mastermind of the idea.
The “creepy” or “spam” factors mattered, but Elliott found that the element of surprise and joy was evident when an estimated 60% of people accepted the invitation and saved the photos. Also, with AirDrop operating within 9 meters, the team could sometimes see the reactions.
As usual at congresses or seminars, the participants usually stare upside down into the abyss of their equipment – a perfect behavioral trait to try out such a stunt. Add in the element of classic targeting and it became apparent that this reinterpretation of push marketing using an existing technology was a winner.
“I think what was really new was that we could reach out to these people who were just the kind of people we were looking for and who just sit there and play around on their phones,” Elliott said. “There are so many people on AirDrop because you have iPads, you have iPhones, you have Macs, it’s all.”
The idea itself came from a random place – Elliott’s experience as a judge in Los Angeles. As a court officer looking through old photos in one of the inevitably boring routes, she discovered that people were showing up on AirDrop. In a moment of whim, Elliott took a picture of himself and mailed it to about eight people who were in the same dire straits in court.
“People accepted the photo and were obviously open to it,” said Elliott. “[I then went] in my notes area, texted them, took a screenshot [and] AirDrop that to them. Then we started going back and forth and having this conversation. After that, I just started AirDropping strangers in public just to get reactions and connect with people. “
It was in Austin that RPA began making significant ties to talent outside the party, with RPA recruiters noticing that talented people who otherwise never thought of joining an agency gave it more than fleeting thought.
“The feedback was people came up to the recruiters and said, ‘Oh my god, I got your AirDrop. I didn’t even think of working in an advertising agency. I wouldn’t even have considered it. I was here to speak to Apple, but I’m interested in what you have to say, ‘”Elliott said. “That was really cool because for us it was almost an opportunity to get in touch with people who wouldn’t necessarily think about working in an advertising agency.”
In fact, the effort had more than a minor impact on the participants.
“One of the things I heard from our recruiter Andrea was that one of the other recruiters came to her booth and said, ‘Oh my god, I’m so mad I didn’t think of such a great idea.'”
Ultimately, this idea was almost too obvious, but RPA jumped at it first and may have reaped significant benefits.
“AirDrop has been around for years and no one has used it that way,” said Elliott. “In this glittering hall of SXSW with all these flyers everywhere and the people saying, ‘Come on, look here, look here,’ we literally go to the one place that people are looking for the most – their phones.”