Cutting through the clutter of anything, let alone the cacophony that is SXSW, is daunting. But, through the simple use of an existing feature of the iPhone, Los Angeles independent agency RPA made a splash in unexpected ways in Austin.

Using the phone’s AirDrop feature, the agency set out to make new friends and build momentum for recruiting new talent. Specifically targeting SXSW panels where a raft of strong talent would be in attendance, RPA pinged attendees who had their AirDrop feature running on their phones with an image inviting them to a musical showcase featuring the band Frenship. Additionally, those in the job market were sent messages inviting them to visit RPA’s talent recruiters on the ground in Austin.

Using the technology, as people may not necessarily have their AirDrop function running, or have it set to receiving media from everyone, was a genuine risk, but appeared to pay off handsomely for the agency.

“Over two and a half days, we must have done literally thousands of AirDrops,” said Annie Elliott, RPA associate creative director and mastermind of the idea.

The “creepy” or “spam” factors were of consideration, but Elliott noted that the element of surprise and delight was evident with an estimated 60% of people accepting the invitation and saving the photos. Additionally, since AirDrop works within a 30-foot radius, the team could sometimes see the reactions.

As is the common practice at conventions or seminars, attendees are usually head down, staring into the abyss of their devices — a perfect behavioral cue to try such a stunt. Add in the element of classic targeting and it became obvious that this fresh spin on push marketing, using an existing technology, was a winner.

“I think what was really fresh was that we were able to target these panels of people that were the exact type of people we were looking for that are just sitting there playing around on their phones,” said Elliott. “There’s so many people on AirDrop, because you have iPads, you have iPhones, you have Macs, it's everything.”

The idea itself came from a random place -- Elliott’s experience at jury duty in Los Angeles. Looking through old photos in one of the inevitably boring stretches as a public servant to the courts, she realized that people were popping up on AirDrop. In a moment of whimsy, Elliott took a photo of herself and sent it to around eight people enduring the same plight in court.

“People accepted the photo and were obviously open to it,” said Elliott. “[I then went] into my notes section, wrote messages to them, took a screenshot [and] AirDropped that to them. Then we started going back and forth, having this conversation. After that, I just started AirDropping strangers in public, just to get reactions and make connections with people.”

In Austin, aside from the party, RPA began to make significant connections with talent, with RPA’s recruiters noting that talented people who would otherwise not think of joining an agency, gave it more than just a cursory second thought.

“The feedback was that people had come up to the recruiters and said, ‘Oh my gosh I got your AirDrop. I wouldn't have even thought to work at an ad agency. I wouldn't have even considered it. I was here to talk to Apple but I'm interested in what you have to say’,” said Elliott. “That was really cool because it was almost a way for us to get exposure to people that wouldn't necessarily think about working at an ad agency.”

Indeed, the effort made more than just a minor impact on attendees.

“One of the things I heard was from our recruiter, Andrea, who said that one of the other recruiters came up to her booth and said, ‘Oh my gosh I'm so mad that I didn't think of this, this is such a great idea.'"

In the final analysis, this idea was almost too obvious, yet RPA jumped on it first and may have reaped the benefits in a significant way.

“AirDrop has been around for years and nobody's used it in this way,” said Elliott. “In this glittered hall of SXSW with all these flyers everywhere and people saying, ‘Come look over here, look over here,’ we're going literally to the one place that people are looking the most — their phones.”

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