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7 January 2019 

Event Heroes: How SEMrush is Building a Global Events Brand

Brandon Rafalson
Event Heroes: How SEMrush is Building a Global Events Brand

Each month we interview an events professional who is breaking the mold. This month we spoke with Aleksandra Panyukhina—Head of Event Marketing at SEMrush—about unifying a global events brand, leveraging events for every step of the funnel and tracking event ROI.

Germany, Italy, India, Australia, the UK, the US—in 2018 SEMrush held 35 events across five continents. The online visibility and content marketing SaaS platform has long maintained a global presence, often with smaller localized events. But SEMrush has recently taken their global events strategy to a whole new level.

Aleksandra Panyukhina is the Head of Events at SEMrush. She brings to the table a wealth of experience in events, having worked for software companies and professional sports organizations. Above all, Aleksandra approaches events with a marketer’s eye for metrics, scalability and driving the bottom line.

Topics discussed in this Event Heroes interview include:

  • Localizing events
  • Tailoring events to the buyer’s journey
  • Measuring the success of different types of events
  • Creating a unified event brand
  • Coordinating with other teams
  • Scaling a global events strategy

Note: This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.

Brandon: From being the Events and Communications Manager for a sleddog league to being the Head of Events at SEMrush, you have a diverse background in events. How did you first get involved with events and how has your career path lead you to where you are today?

Aleksandra: As you mentioned, I used to work for a sleddog league. I actually first started professionally competing in sleddog racing as well as cross-country cycling before my career in events. Each competition was, of course, an event in itself. I started helping out in the offseason with the organization of some of the races—starting from the local level, up to the world championship and world cup series.

There were sometimes extreme conditions, like not sleeping for 24 hours or coping with floods. And that’s when I realized I liked events.

I liked the team spirit of it and the need to solve for things that might come up during the event. Around this time I was also studying marketing at university, and I realized that event marketing would be the perfect field for me to start my career in. So I set a very specific goal for myself.

I soon started working for Veeam Software, working there as an event marketer for German-speaking regions, and then I moved to SEMrush. I started off as an events manager and then eventually became the leader of the team.

Brandon: From your perspective, how has the SEMrush event strategy evolved over time?

Aleksandra: Three years ago, our events featured diversification between different markets and—one of the strong points of SEMrush events—a very local approach to each of these markets. This strategy worked great for events and for initially penetrating the market with smaller events.

However, once we achieved brand recognition in these markets, there became a need to establish a more global presence at the largest industry events. To do this, it was crucial for us to maintain a unified brand image.

Whether we had an event in Brazil or in China, we needed the brand to look the same and we needed to provide the same experience to our attendees.

We’re now working on the largest industry trade shows across the world. And we’re working much more on creating our own events—at different scales and of different types.

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Brandon: Part of this new event strategy is that SEMrush is going to host its first user conference. Could you tell us a little more?

Aleksandra: We’re planning to bring together a group of 150 select users from different countries to create an international community of people who use our product and benefit from it. We want them to work together, to talk together and to experience the beautiful city of Prague.

We really value creating an intimate community for attendees to network together and to get to know one another.

Brandon: So the user conference is one sort of event type that SEMrush is investing in. Could you give us a couple of more examples of how SEMrush is targeting specific audiences with specific types of events?

Aleksandra: Basically, we align the types of events that we’re using with the marketing and sales funnel. We start at the top of the funnel with trade shows for lead generation. This way we can collect high-quality leads that are in the stage either of awareness or consideration.

We work with roadshow series for our customers and prospects to educate, to provide more value on the products and also to establish a personal relationship. Although SEMrush is an online product, it’s made by and for people, and so the chance to build personal relationships is huge for us.

And as I mentioned, we’re launching a new user conference that I’m sure will be a great delight for all of our customers.

There are other events that do not fall within three categories but are also very important both for tackling new audiences and building the community around the brand.

Brandon: When it comes to measuring event ROI, you’ve mentioned that it’s not just about cash flow, but about the impact of an event on a customer or prospect relationship. How does your team measure this impact?

Aleksandra: Obviously event ROI for us consists of the cash flow that is coming in from or is influenced by an event, but we also consider other schemes of ROI for different types of events.

Trade shows, for example, are a lot about the numbers: The number of leads collected, the number of leads going to the pipeline, the number of leads going to the next stage, and the number of leads being closed within a certain amount of time.

The outreach and impact on brand awareness is also a big part of any event ROI: number of social media mentions, publications featuring SEMrush after the event, number of people who’ve potentially interacted with the brand. Outreach can be really hard to measure because so much of it is word of mouth, however, it has a huge impact on your reputation.


Aleksandra presenting the welcome speech at an annual SEMrush VIP dinner in Milan.

Brandon: How do you work with your sales and customer success teams to drive success with your events?

Aleksandra: Our events marketing team works really closely with sales and sales departments. For trade shows, it’s mandatory that our on-site team consists of representatives from sales, CS and our events team.

For all of the events that we are planning in the upcoming year, we are first sitting down together with our heads of sales to discuss what markets to consider, the biggest goals for us, what events we think we should attend.

But we also offer our advice as the event specialists in the room. We consider timing, which events to attend throughout the year, who should go, what materials are needed, what specific SEMrush tools we want to highlight.

After the event, we look closely at the event analytics and we sit down with salespeople who attended. We discuss the results and whether or not we should continue with the event next year.

Brandon: Are there any specific metrics that you’re looking for?

Aleksandra: Well there are the deals that are being closed at the event, the deals that are being closed right after the event, and the deals that are influenced by an event.

We’re also looking into the number of event deals that are upgrades, win-backs or new payments to better understand how different events better serve different goals.

We also measure how many of our existing customers, how many prospects, and how many new leads register for an event to better understand how we can tailor our presence there for the audience.



An SEMrush LIVE roadshow event in Berlin.

Brandon: In 2018 alone, SEMrush has participated in events in 13 countries across 5 continents. What does it take to have such a global event presence? How do you localize your content for different regions?

Aleksandra: First of all I can say it takes a great team to manage all of that. The number of events we hosted and the quality of the events we delivered would not have been possible if I were alone.

It takes a lot of communication and building relationships with other teams within the company. We’re a pretty big company now—close to 600 people—and our team is constantly communicating with more than 12 teams and departments across their organization.

We also have a system for what our branding should look like, what our gifts should look like, what we materials have. Our team knows all of the specifics of our brand, the expectations for our events, the do’s and don’ts for our SEMrush brand and event.

For instance, when considering a venue, we can look at a photo and understand immediately if it fits our brand or not.

We also have shared folders with all the materials that have been created, which is localized in different languages and is ready for print or digital.

Brandon: How do you stay inspired and keep your creative instincts fresh?

Aleksandra: Well I can say that, first, it’s just part of the job and it just turns into your way of thinking.

Once you exercise this skill pretty much every day, you feel like you can turn almost anything into a creative experience.

Whenever there is a new tool coming out within our platform, I’m always thinking about how we could expose it through an offline event and what experience we could create around it. How to, say, turn our new keyword magic tool into a scrabble game.

The second thing is just being able to turn your mind off and do something completely different from what your everyday job looks like.

Brandon: Speaking of…I understand that when you’re not planning global events you can be seen lighting up the dance floor. What’s your favorite dance style?

Aleksandra: I’m totally in love with all Cuban styles: salsa casino, reggaeton and folklore. Dance is something I’m keen about and have been doing for quite a few years. I perform myself, teach others, and also attend dance festivals.

Brandon: You speak English, German, Polish, Russian, and Spanish. Which language do you prefer to read books in?

Aleksandra: I always want to read it in original because that gives the best understanding I can of what really the author meant.

Brandon: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who is just starting to run a global event strategy?

Aleksandra: One thing to keep in mind is quality over quantity. You can do one great event a year that everybody will keep talking about or you can instead do ten smaller-scale or lower events where you put in less effort but also get back less in terms of the results.

The other thing is that despite having a global event strategy, you still want to have a local approach. You have to keep in mind the cultural differences and the specifics of the country you’re visiting. Your attendees will appreciate the effort you put in.

That’s all for this spotlight, but you may be interested in checking out these other Event Heroes:

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