Porter Novelli

Every year as tens of thousands of digital and technology leaders descend on Austin for SXSW Interactive hundreds of companies follow suit, hoping to get time with influencers, media, digital and from within their industry. Most of these companies, agencies and brands throw at least some kind of reception or party to attract these influencers. We at Porter Novelli are certainly among them.

You may remember that this year we wanted to do something different, giving people the chance to network while doing some good in the world at the same time – so we threw our first annual #PNSXSWPoker tournament this past Friday night. The drinks were free, the poker was free and all it took to play was a contribution to charity:water.

We had more than 100 people show up on Friday night for the festivities; about half of them chose to play poker. In all, we raised about $1000 for charity:water that will go to drill a well in a village in Kenya. That well will provide clean water for 200-250 villagers – and everyone who joined us for the event helped contribute to that goal.

But it was about more than poker, and more than charity. When we were deciding what to do this year for SXSW, one of the things we felt strongest about on principle is that networking at the event has kind of lost its way. Too many of the parties have become cacophonic challenges in which hundreds – if not thousands – of people cram into a venue and shout to be heard over loud music while being smushed together like sardines. Often, people end up talking only to the small group they came with – hardly the point of a networking party!

We wanted our party to be different, so we came up with the poker idea along with our partners at DoubleDown Casino.  We knew that starting a poker tournament would encourage total strangers to sit down at tables together – and that in such an environment they’d be able to talk to us and with each other without shouting to be heard or risk having drinks spilled on them.  We knew that letting people have fun together would encourage them to do the kind of networking people used to do and still aspire to do at SXSW. And by adding charity:water to the mix, we were able to include a feel-good element, helping people while facilitating a more intimate get-together more conducive to conversation.

We feel like we succeeded. Judging from the tweets and feedback we saw, our guests also felt like the night was a success. One of our favorite reactions comes from blogger and communications consultant Leigh Anne Schmidt. In her post-SXSW post, she writes,

“Now THIS is good PR! … They put a bunch of smart people at poker tables and told us to have fun for charity…and we did. We also made new connections, learned new things, heard new ideas, and maybe even made some new friends. That’s networking in the true “old school” vein of SXSW, and Porter Novelli nailed it.”

Big congratulations to Melissa Tinitigan, the grand prize winner for the evening. And we’d like to extend our gratitude to our friends at Texas Poker Supply for providing the tables, the dealers and the grand prize – as well as the great folks at The Rattle Inn for hosting the event and being a great venue.

We learned that there’s value in going back to basics, bigness in staying (relatively) small, and that it feels good to do some good. We already can’t wait for next year!