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Member Spotlight: Kelli Cothran


Senior Product & Account Manager, SXSW


Austin, Texas, USA



What do you love most about sponsorship marketing?

I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with individuals and forging meaningful connections with consumers through sponsorships. A truly exceptional sponsorship seamlessly integrates with a brand’s identity and seamlessly intertwines with the broader context of an event or program, fostering a deep sense of connection among attendees with both partners involved.

What partnership were you most excited about this year? Or for next year? 

Selecting a favorite partnership proves challenging, as each collaboration presents unique values and contributions. However, this year, I particularly relished observing Delta’s multifaceted engagement. From their SkyMiles member registration hub to the immensely popular “Delta Lounge” experiential brand activation, their initiatives resonated profoundly with our attendees, leaving a lasting impression.

What is a best practice example of a recent partnership?

I’ve noticed that people are often captivated by the anticipation and surprise elements. At SXSW 2024, Amazon Health ingeniously showcased Amazon Pharmacy at our Exhibition by incorporating a professional-sized pickleball court. To add an element of excitement, they organized a celebrity match featuring Andy Roddick, Josh Richards, John Love (VP, Amazon Pharmacy), and Peter Lewis (SXSW Chief Partnerships Officer). As an extra twist, they staged an Amazon Pharmacy “delivery” during the match, seamlessly promoting the product and platform while creating an unforgettable moment in the SXSW exhibition space. Moreover, they live-streamed the matches on YouTube, allowing viewers to experience the thrill of hearing the players mic’d up and fully immersed in the match.

What do your partners love most about your event? 

Capturing the essence of SXSW is no easy task. Our audience is not just engaged but genuinely excited about the diverse content, innovative brands, and the debut of groundbreaking products. I often liken our event to a space without physical boundaries; where concepts and ideas roam freely, unrestricted. From attending enlightening sessions in the morning to catching a thought-provoking film in the afternoon, and winding down the day at a captivating music showcase, attendees are continuously immersed in a dynamic environment. Moreover, the opportunity to interact with brands on various levels throughout the day adds an extra layer of excitement. Whether it’s discovering your next business partner, pitching a product proposal, or uncovering your new favorite movie, the possibilities at SXSW are endless and just a fingertip away. Partners recognize the immense value in this convergence of ideas and experiences and eagerly seek to be a part of the conversation.

What is your favorite moment from this year’s SXSW? Big or small! 

I’ve always found the regional highlights at SXSW to be a source of great enjoyment. This year, we were thrilled to showcase a diverse array of domestic and international partners, representing regions ranging from Philadelphia, Tulsa, Birmingham, and Tennessee to Great Britain, Australia, São Paulo, and Ireland, among many others. The breadth of representation added richness to our event, offering attendees a truly global perspective and fostering meaningful connections across borders. Additionally, thanks to a partnership with Itaú Unibanco, we were able to provide translated session content in Portuguese and Spanish, further expanding our reach and ensuring inclusivity for attendees from various linguistic backgrounds.

What inspired you to join SMA? OR What inspired you to attend the Summit? 

I’ve harbored a passion for design ever since completing my undergraduate degree. Over time, I began noticing patterns in design across various industries which eventually lead to my graduate studies in event sponsorships. What truly captivates me about sponsorship marketing is how it encapsulates numerous elements and principles of design—cohesiveness, balance, emphasis, value etc —and transforms them into immersive experiences. Attending the SMA summit last fall was a wonderful experience for me. Each session and conversation left me feeling as though I had discovered a community that not only understood but shared my language of experiential marketing, igniting a shared excitement for the future of sponsorships. I look forward to the 2024 summit, eager to delve deeper into the evolving landscape of our industry.

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