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Doing business at SXSW: tips from Alcatel-Lucent's Mike Maney

Drinking and partying your brains out at SXSW is an easy enough task, but how do you come to this massive conference to do business? I pulled aside Alcatel-Lucent’s Mike Maney to hear how his team makes sure to fit into “the vibe” of the conference and get business value out of it, as well as have plenty of fun, as you’ll see.

The highlights:

  • Alcatel-Lucent setup the #ElevenAPI lounge and was able to host the Angry Birds folks there with several announcements and, as you’ll see in the background, live-action Angry Birds playing.
  • This year, there’s a lot more good conversation, good business conversations with folks big (like Johnson and Johnson, NBC, JC Penny’s) and small.
  • People like that it’s not vey corporate in here. It facilities conversation.
  • Measuring: tacking hash-tags and measuring interest from people in conversations. (Also, there’s some things like driving seven hours just to play Angry Birds that you can’t really measure).
  • If you didn’t have a lounge: look for sessions that interest you, check out the planned networking opportunities, or just walking down the street and meeting people.
  • For a large company, you have to be a little looser and casual to fit into “the vibe.”
  • The effect: We’ve had lines out the door every day with people hanging out, and getting cool folks making the lounge a base.
  • How far ahead of time do you start planning for SXSW? Mike’s team started for 2012 during the 2011 SXSW.
  • Problems: Bigger parties with long lines, people who are just hanging out vs. working, but, really, “we haven’t had a lot of bad experience here.”


As usual with these un-sponsored episodes, I haven’t spent time to clean up the transcript. If you see us saying something crazy, check the original audio first. There are time-codes where there were transcription problems.

Michael Coté: Well, hello everybody! Here we are at the Alcatel-Lucent Angry Birds’ Lounge at South by Southwest. We have a returning guest here, this time visually, to talk about how the South by Southwest is going. Do you want to introduce yourself?

Mike Maney: Sure! Hi Michael! I am Mike Maney. I am the Head of Influencer Management at Alcatel-Lucent.

Michael Coté: And as you can see, you are very into the Angry Birds.

Mike Maney: I am into the Angry Birds, yes. They are good people.

Michael Coté: So what I wanted to ask you is, I guess people can predict that things are going well by your willingness to put on this awesome suit. But last time we talked we were just kind of talking about the sort of PR and Influencer Management tools and things like that.

So I thought you would be a good person having this Lounge here to kind of go over, has this South by Southwest thing been worth it? Like how is it fitting in to the thing you do for Alcatel?

Mike Maney: So it’s our second year back, and it’s kind of nice when we get a lot of returning folks back to the Lounge. It’s the ELEVEN API Lounge, because it does go up past 10 to 11, that’s sort of what we are doing here. It has been really good.

I think one of the changes that we have seen this year is that we have really seen a lot of good conversation with people, like real business. We have had folks like Johnson & Johnson, NBC, JCPenney’s, folks that are from the enterprise world coming in to talk about APIs and development and non-enterprise stuff.

Michael Coté: And do you get a good audience for that?

Mike Maney: Yes, you get a really good audience for that. I think they are drawn in by a lot of the excitement that we do and the fact that what we do is not very corporate in here. Not very corporate at all. And they just come on in. They have a really good time and it facilitates conversation, which is really what the networking of South by Southwest is all about.

Michael Coté: So I mean, is that the kind of thing that you can measure somehow, or is it sort of like, you just like, hey, trust me, people are coming in and they like this stuff?

Mike Maney: I would like to say that it’s a little bit of the gut feel, and trust me, we know when it’s going well, but for my corporate marketing folks, yeah, I will find a way to measure it somehow.

Michael Coté: Right. Yeah, it’s seems like Twitter is probably a nice way to do that, right?

Mike Maney: We hashtag it with ELEVEN API, so we are measuring volume that way and taking a look at the content of the conversations that are happening there. We are also just sort of gauging interest from comments from folks that we are having interactions with.

Michael Coté: So outside of the Lounge area, which we will get back to, like —

Mike Maney: Wait, there is a place outside of here?

Michael Coté: What about the rest of the conference, have you gotten a feel for what — so like with the rest of the conference, like what — and having been here two years, what do you think of — if someone didn’t have a Lounge going on, what would be kind of the way you would interact with the rest of the conference?

Mike Maney: Well, I do what a lot of the tips say. So I go and I look for the sessions that interest me and I make that list. I try and get to them, and I know they didn’t blow up on day one, and I would do what — South by Southwest’s probably best act is the networking opportunities with peers, with people that you don’t know, walking down the street and seeing somebody with a Gluecon shirt last night, and being able to introduce them to Eric Norlin, being able to do stuff like that.

Michael Coté: Yeah, I notice that in the schedule they actually have a lot of like meetups for different types of categories, which is — I haven’t been to one of those, but it seems nice.

Mike Maney: I tried to get to the Photo one, didn’t make it. But for a large corporation, there are some that I think will do it right, some that won’t, and you have to really be a little bit looser and have the ability to not take yourself as seriously, to be part of the vibe that is South by, and part of what it’s about and embrace it.

I think we have done that here coming back for the second year. We have got Angry Birds in the Lounge, which has been — we have had lines outside the door every single day. What time is it now? It’s 11:30. We have been going since 10, 10:30 today, with lines outside the door.

People playing live action Angry Birds. We have got RCR Wireless broadcasting live. We have had the guys from the Yobongo in here. I mean, I would venture to say we have had the two hottest companies at South by Southwest hanging out and making the Alcatel-Lucent Lounge their home base; the Yobongo and Angry Birds.

Michael Coté: For people who don’t know Alcatel-Lucent very well, I mean, can you kind of explain how those — how that kind of fits into your business? Like why do you want to have this stuff running around with each other?

Mike Maney: Well, we want to have it running around with each other because a lot of people, you are right, they don’t know who we are, they don’t know what we do, but they use our stuff everyday without knowing.

Alcatel-Lucent sits at the very heart and core of all of the networks that all these games, all of these apps, everything runs on. All these devices connect to some sort of Alcatel-Lucent innovation and technology. We just want to be able to have people understand this is the company that’s helping to make that possible.

Michael Coté: Yeah, Cisco does a lot of moving bits around, but you guys do a lot of moving bits and voice and switches, like all the gear.

Mike Maney: Exactly! Exactly! We do all of that stuff that nobody every sees and is really vitally important. It’s really tough work and it’s fun.

Michael Coté: So a couple more little operational questions. So how far ahead of time do you start planning for South by Southwest?

Mike Maney: Oh, we started last Thursday. I mean, this year we actually just started today for next year. So we had a meeting this morning and we are already planning and booking stuff for next year. Thinking about what we can do differently, how we can make it even better, how we can make it a little more interactive, and shift stuff around to keep it fresh.

Michael Coté: Right. So I mean, there has been a lot of positive things you have been seeing, but what are some things that you would like to see work out better or that just flat out don’t work when you are coming here?

Mike Maney: That’s a really good question. I think some of the bigger parties with the lines, that’s always a challenge. People that are here for just hanging out at the parties versus the actual networking, that will always be a challenge, again, embracing the culture of it.

We really have not had a whole lot of — we really haven’t had a whole lot of bad experience here, it has worked out really, really well. We just look for incremental ways to make it that much better.

Michael Coté: Right, right, right. Okay. Well, great! Well, I think unless there is any other sort of like tips or trip report experiences you want to relate to us, I think that was pretty good.

Mike Maney: Thanks a lot, Michael.

Michael Coté: Yeah. We will talk to everyone next time.

Mike Maney: Yeah. Bye.

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