SXSW 2023 is officially over, closing its doors after 10 days of dynamic learnings, innovative storytelling and a whole lot of fun. The annual Austin, Texas conference provides an opportunity for the global community to encounter cutting-edge ideas, discover new interests and network with other professionals who share a similar appetite for forward-focused experiences.

Of course, GSW, powered by Syneos Health®, had to send some of its top creative talent to this vibrant conference, and they’ve brought back some key insights that healthcare communicators and the rest of the industry should know. I sat down with Bryan Roman, EVP, Creative Technology, Daniel Vuyovich, VP, Design Director and Emelia Douglas, Creative Experience Designer to learn about their experiences at SXSW 2023.

In one word—how was SXSW?!

“Electrifying.” – Bryan Roman, EVP, Creative Technology

“Exhilarating!” – Daniel Vuyovich, VP, Design Director

“Bananas … in a good way!” – Emelia Douglas, Creative Experience Designer

Did you have a favorite event or display?

“There were back-to-back trends keynotes from Amy Webb and Rohit Bhargava—both taking slightly opposite views on what our future looks like. According to Webb, the internet as we know it is gone. The next two years will be a period of transition as AI becomes widespread in every industry and every business if they’re smart enough to keep up.

Bhargava, on the other hand, believes that AI and other tools will take slightly longer to become the norm across the board. It was fascinating to see both viewpoints in a span of hours.” – Bryan Roman, EVP, Creative Technology

“The one that sticks out to me the most was a holographic display of a heart and human organ system. It was interactive, so you could literally rotate it and see different parts in real time. There’s been a lot of progress made in holographic technology recently, and it was fascinating to see a new area of potential for interactive displays at congresses for our clients.” – Daniel Vuyovich, VP, Design Director

“I think my favorite exhibit was an interactive art installation called Quantum Jungle. It basically visualized quantum physics on a large interactive wall and made something typically very complicated a lot more approachable. It was awesome.” – Emelia Douglas, Creative Experience Designer

Did you spy any upcoming trends that people should be aware of? Anything that healthcare communicators specifically should know about?

“I wouldn’t call these ‘trends,’ but burnout and misinformation were two topics that kept coming up throughout the conference. HCP burnout has been a hot topic in the healthcare industry since COVID-19, and for good reason. Our doctors are more stressed out than ever, whether it’s from tough working conditions, lack of work-life balance or just the constant healthcare disinformation that HCPs have been battling for years. Pharma companies and healthcare communicators alike should take a step back and show empathy towards HCPs, as they’re going through a lot more than they present.

Another thing that our industry needs to take note of: SXSW is officially a healthcare conference. There were over 65 healthcare-specific sessions, and many big pharma companies and healthcare agencies were present. Industry folks should highly consider attending next year, not only to see what the rest of the comms world is doing, but to exchange ideas between each other.” – Bryan Roman, EVP, Creative Technology

“One upcoming trend I was made aware of was the prominence of AI in everything we’re doing and everything we will be doing. Shutterstock actually had a huge exhibit on generative AI art and how they’re using it as a feature on their website. I’m excited to try it out with our creative work at GSW.

Another big thing I noticed was how many big pharma clients and other agencies were present at SXSW. The conference is becoming more and more healthcare focused, and I’m going to highly recommend that our clients attend in the future.” – Daniel Vuyovich, VP, Designer Director

“1000% AI is here to stay. Now that the AI genie is out of the bottle, it’s only going to get bigger and more present in every industry, including healthcare. If pharma companies and healthcare agencies don’t try to keep up with the rest of the world, they will get left behind!” – Emelia Douglas, Creative Experience Designer

While we have you … how do you see AI tools like ChatGPT influencing the healthcare industry in the future?

“AI is everywhere and is evolving quickly. We’re at the precipice of something huge, and we as communicators have the ability to harness new technology and upscale the level of quality of our work. Healthcare communicators and the healthcare industry in general should take advantage of this new technology and do as much as they can to keep up with this constantly changing machine.” – Bryan Roman, EVP, Creative Technology

“I think that AI will enhance the services that our clients can offer to patients as well as healthcare providers. AI is helping facilitate a lot of functions that have traditionally been handled by people, all the way down the chain from company/client to consumer.

I think AI is going to help drug companies get quicker to compounds, and will impact every single phase of our industry, from the clinical side to how we communicate about therapies to different audiences.” - Daniel Vuyovich, VP, Designer Director

“We listened to folks talk about how AI can help in the future with more precise and personalized surgery, like assisting surgeons in the operating room to make surgeries safer and quicker. Someone mentioned that in 50 years, we’ll probably look back and ask how we operated surgeries without AI. That’s crazy to think about, but really exciting at the same time.” – Emelia Douglas, Creative Experience Designer

What are your overall takeaways?

“SXSW 2023 was a massive ego-check on the industry—a large stray away from the NFT- and Bitcoin-filled conversations of SXSW 2022. This year took a more slightly more serious tone as healthcare sessions discussed the unavoidable problem of HCP burnout and how to combat it, plus the broader issue of disinformation and its implications inside and outside of our industry.

On top of that, AI was of course a hot topic, with panelists taking opposite sides on whether or not this new technology is a good thing. Good or not, AI is evolving before our eyes and will impact every industry a lot quicker than people may expect.

This year’s conference was what I’m calling the ‘post-COVID hangover.’ The economy is lacking, the people are exhausted, but there are glimmers of hope as new technology rises and people try to understand each other and their struggles more.” – Bryan Roman, EVP, Creative Technology

“AI is going to impact every single part of what we do and how we work, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I see AI as the thing that will remove a lot of the busy work so we as humans can focus on conceptual thinking and problem solving for our clients. If we use AI in the right way, we’ll end up having a strategic and symbiotic relationship with it, making our people smarter and our work better."  – Daniel Vuyovich, VP, Design Director

“As a first timer at SXSW, this was a really great way to get inspired and revitalized in my career. I felt a lot of optimism about the future of our industry, especially with the rise of AI and its capabilities. We’re at the beginning of something huge, and I’m excited to watch it all unfold.” – Emelia Douglas, Creative Experience Designer

About the Author:

Hannah Dietz brings over four years of experience in marketing and digital strategy to her role as a Marketing Strategist at Syneos Health Communications. During her time at Syneos Health, she has gained invaluable experience working across agency brands on everything from social media strategy and branding, to public relations and copywriting. Previously, Hannah worked at a digital marketing agency, where she specialized in paid advertising and SEO, and prior to that she worked in public relations.