Jim Weiss
Chairman and founder
Real Chemistry

• Women rule the world — or they should.
• AI is everywhere, particularly in healthcare — and technology is moving faster than the industry. If you’re just getting around to integrating it now, it’s probably too late.
• It’s all about influencers and influence. 
• Opportunity abounds. We are poised and prepared to take full advantage.

Ritesh Patel
Senior partner, global digital health
Finn Partners

I have mixed feelings about this year’s event. Overall, the usual buzz was missing. There was a distinct lack of numbers. The food and drink outlets that are usually jammed with long lines were surprisingly easy to get into and the congestion one sees at street crossings was not bad.

With regard to healthcare, some of the panels were well attended while others less so, suggesting that there was some inconsistency in attendance overall. So from the interactive-conference perspective, there were good healthcare conversations and a few great conversations.  

Outside the official panel picker-based conversations, there were a number of adjacent healthcare focused events from a variety of people. Ringer Sciences held a wonderful event at their new office space south of downtown focused on our future with AI, featuring stellar speakers: Jeremiah Owyang, Kathryn Metcalfe, Bonin Bough and Aniz Ruda. A fascinating conversation on how AI will impact our lives and also marketing.I was grateful to meet a number of entrepreneurs from around the world who are still interested in making a difference. FAQ YOU, a company based in Germany, is focused on engaging Gen Z around mental and sexual health. Mente is focused on the Latin Gen Z market around mental health and access to healthcare services.The winner for me from an activation perspective was Delta Airlines. They were everywhere and created some interesting activations, such as enabling people in their Delta Miles program to skip the usual long lines at registration by picking up badges at different locations and even upon arrival at the airport, along with many other perks. Bravo!

Ben Zanghi
Director, technology
McCann Health New Jersey and Hill Holliday Health

SXSW 2024 showcased a transformative truth: AI is closing the gap between visionaries and creators, making the journey from idea to reality accessible to all. We’re not just witnessing technology’s evolution but participating in a movement where anyone can be a creator — and those that already possess the creative craft, when armed with AI, will be able to create things previously thought impossible.

Khari Motayne
VP, engagement strategy
CMI Media Group

There have been compelling ethical conversations here at SXSW this year, which have been timely given where the industry is moving on discussions around privacy, data and AI. Conversations around why healthcare is doing less with more data dug into the flow of money and an overreliance on legal and compliance officers restricting the bounds of the patient experience. Outside the healthcare track, one panel on story worlds (media-rich environments that attempt to mimic our immersive experiences that can stretch days) dove into how computing intelligence could be vital in creating those experiences and the ethical considerations needed to protect individuals’ privacy while in those worlds. Even in new and exciting worlds built for escapism, there was no escaping the topics of privacy, data and ethics.

Aaron Strout
Chief marketing officer
Real Chemistry

• I had an enlightening conversation with my good friend Bryan Hansen from J&J. We were talking about the importance of SXSW and that it was hard to encapsulate the intangibles without attending. The big lightbulb that went off in our heads — and these were Bryan’s words — is that SXSW isn’t an interactive conference or a music/film festival, but rather an “ideas conference.” It’s where the best minds in the world across multiple industries converge to learn from one another. I think part of me knew this, but this really helped cement it.
• Related: There are few better places to collaborate and connect. As part of our posse this year, we hosted the CEOs of ASCO, American Cancer Society and FNIH (Julie Gerberding) along with the chief engagement officer of the NIH’s “All of Us,” CEOs/leaders of multiple advocacy groups (NORD, Tigerlily, Blue Hat) and numerous senior level clients. I’m talking CMO-/SVP-level people, and on the commercial and clinical sides.
• This is the year that healthcare grew up at SXSW. We had the most concentrated group of leaders across the life sciences/mental health/med device space ever. Heck, Katie Couric and The SHE Media Lounge had an almost exclusive focus on health this year.

Celia Jones
Chief marketing officer
Finn Partners

This was my fifth SXSW. The palpable excitement and energy of the early days of SXSW — big tech “reveals,” buzzy launch activations and feisty audience members calling BS on speakers — has been replaced by a much different vibe. It’s more low-key, a bit underwhelming in terms of groundbreaking innovations or visceral inspiration.

From a programming standpoint, there were definitely powerful conversations addressing the seismic shifts transforming business and culture. It’s no surprise that AI found its way into most of the panels I attended, and it was great to see the depth of conversation around advancing diversity, equity and access across all tracks.The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge continues to do a great job highlighting women’s issues, with provocative panels on AI’s role in healthcare (featuring Novartis and the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association) and an excellent conversation on International Women’s Day about how brands can move beyond performative marketing to year-long strategies and support.

The challenge and nagging question for me with the general SXSW panel format is how to move from conversation to action.

In a digitally dominated world, there is still tremendous power in getting passionate, like-minded people in a room together, united by a desire AND ability (based on their roles in business, government and the health innovation community) to disrupt the status quo and innovate for a better world. That was always the true ethos and magic of SXSW in the early days. And we’ve found that it still can be a forum for human-to-human connection, combined with collectively deploying technology advances to drive meaningful change.

Dan Silverstein
Product design lead
FCB Health New York

The era of the AI honeymoon has concluded, paving the way for a profound impact poised to reshape our professional landscape. We find ourselves in the midst of a transformative shift, moving from isolated AI tasks to their pervasive integration into our daily work routines. This transition is anticipated to unfold at an accelerated pace, surpassing the speed of the digital revolution. As we navigate these changes, our focus extends to exploring the capabilities and methodologies of AI-enabled individuals and teams. By strategically leveraging AI, we aim for remarkable productivity enhancements on specific tasks. It’s imperative to recognize that failure to adapt in this evolving landscape puts jobs at risk, underscoring the urgency of embracing and incorporating these advancements into our professional spheres.

Meredith Owen
Chief revenue officer, integrated intelligence
Real Chemistry

• There was a SXSW panel on combating misinformation for patients. This, of course, was a major topic during the pandemic, but there’s been some fatigue around how to actually solve the problem. The panel took a very current lens to the issue by talking about implications for AI (both how it can be leveraged to combat misinformation and create it). There was also a focus in the conversation on rare diseases and marginalized communities and the importance of freely available information/increased threat of misinformation.
• During the conversation, a panelist said, “To build trust, you have to recognize where trust was lost at some point.” The big takeaway for me here was the importance of understanding the full patient and HCP journey — not just where they are today, but the experiences and trusted sources that will shape their decision-making.
• There was a lot of dialogue around data quality and transparency, and grading the quality of information as AI-based models are increasingly used in healthcare decision-making. I’m sure we’ll continue to see data quality as a top theme in conversation this year as knowledge increases around the implications of data quality in some of the top AI use cases. Data preparation as well as collection will grow as a differentiator for leaders in the AI and insights space.

Emma Cooley
Associate director, strategy

SXSW has been impressive all around, but I am especially inspired by the potential of psychedelics to transform mental health care and give people access to long-lasting, life-changing results that the traditional medical system historically has not been able to provide: MDMA for PTSD, psilocybin for postpartum depression and LSD for anxiety.  

Josh Simon
SVP, social center of excellence
CMI Media Group

Culture Media is the new community. Brands are finally finding their niche in the new world of content graph-based algorithms (which do not prioritize brands) through cultural relevance. Brands must toss the old playbook and do more cultural intelligence research to create content ideas, then make them look less like ads by loosening brand guidelines, co-creating more and prompting for responses. The death of brand content has been overstated but it’s clear pharma needs to adapt quicker to these content trends. This seismic shift calls for brands to do more content R&D to show MLR how modern content needs to look and develop a consistent formula, much like the adoption of scrolling video ISI in social years ago.

Brittney Holcomb
Director of engagement strategy
FCB Health New York

• The use of wearable technology and sensors breaks the mechanics of the body down like a digital dashboard in an automobile and signals potential areas of concern, like a check-engine light coming on. This simplified understanding of the body and biomarkers can trigger HCPs to take a second look at something that may be benign now, but has the trajectory of being malignant in five years. 
• Hearing that 97% of the data that hospitals create goes unused was mind-blowing to me. This is data that could lead to the development of preventative efforts in early detection of diseases and technology that could help us better manage the progression of those diseases.
• HCPs and hospital C-suites are worried about leveraging this data because of the privacy concerns of their patients. However, 100 million people share their health data over social media every day in an effort to connect with others with similar experiences. Today more than ever, patients are eager for more: They want more information and support for their care teams, despite those care teams thinking that the information overload will overwhelm their patients.

Melanie Lysaght
Director, innovation
CMI Media Group

Most impactful was the featured session “AI and Humanity’s Co-evolution” with OpenAI’s Head of ChatGPT. Peter Deng argues that ChatGPT will make us more, not less, human because it will enable us to go deeper, to ask more questions. He suggests we should perceive the role of LLMs as thought partners — a tool that can help linearize our thoughts and uncover insights we may not have uncovered otherwise. Think of AI not as an infallible sage, but as a tool to spar with. We, as humans, are shifting away from being the engine of progress to now being the compass. 

Deng was careful when addressing the potential pitfalls of AI. He commended creatives who leveraged ChatGPT as their thought partner, but pushed for transparency for those who do. He recommended proactivity and transparency by indicating if and how AI is integrated within a creative process, stating that it would only help build trust in one’s work and abilities. Deng even showed enthusiasm when asked if we as a society should adopt a “certified human” label on published work.

That being said, I hereby confirm that this write-up was “certified human.” 

Joe Post
SVP, client director
CMI Media Group

Mental health continues to be a major issue and stress levels are at an all-time high. These factors have a direct impact on a patient in being able to fight or recover. There is a significant opportunity for brands to establish greater trust and authenticity by talking to our patients as people and not the disease or condition that makes up a portion of their lives. HCPs are also experiencing increased levels of stress and are getting pulled in more directions than ever before. Patients are feeling this, with excessive wait times to see a doctor and appointments feeling rushed and not as personal. There is an opportunity for AI to give doctors the gift of time by reducing the time spent on computers and in EHRs and allowing them to spend more time treating patients.