Become a master of social media platforms, which change on a daily basis, adding more tools/technologies, to help businesses. For example, Instagram has developed and continues to evolve its insights and analytics, its store, and features like IGTV that all enable businesses to reach their target demographic and have them directly shop while browsing the platform.
As a part of our series about “Marketing Strategies From The Top” I had the pleasure of interviewing Elma Beganovich from Amra & Elma LLC
Ms. Beganovich leads A&E’s efforts in building the list of world-renowned partners and clients. Her area of expertise includes identifying roles that A&E can play for a variety of brands in different industries, as well as developing terms and scope of those partnerships. Ms. Beganovich holds a B.A. in Government and French from Georgetown University (2007) and a J.D. from University of Miami Law School (2011). She attended Georgetown University School of Law for the LLM program in Securities and Financial Regulations (2012) and is a New York barred attorney. Ms. Beganovich is one of the top New York City’s lifestyle influencers with over 1 million followers across her social channels. She has been named as a leading influencer marketing expert by Forbes, Business Insider, Financial Times, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, WSJ, ELLE Magazine, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and many more. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies like Johnson & Johnson, LVMH, Procter & Gamble, Uber, Nestle, HTC, Huawei and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was late 2012, before Facebook had even launched its Pages, and I was at Georgetown Law pursuing my LLM in securities and financial regulations.My sister, and now my business partner, had approached me about this idea of publishing my travel content, which I had already been doing on my personal Facebook profile, on a blog. At the time, there weren’t many lifestyle blogs, i.e., giving women advice on what to wear or where to shop on a budget; there were the traditional publications like Vogue, ELLE and Harper’s Bazaar, which seemed to be more and more non-relatable as an everyday woman could not afford to spend tens of thousands or hundreds of thousand on retail. Hence, Amra stayed up one night and tried to figure out coding — HTML and CSS — to put up our first blog. This is how our journey into the world of digital marketing began — by sheer accident! Three months into blogging, we garnered over 100,000 unique monthly visitors and brands started noticing and contacting us — Rodial, Deborah Lipman and Paris Hilton, she had her own line of purses then, started approaching us and talking about partnerships. I figured if brands were willing to expend manpower/womanpower, i.e., labor and products, there must have been paid opportunities in this world of digital marketing.
Amra and I ultimately started as influencers in 2013, and in 2015 we turned into a digital agency as our clients started asking us how we could expand our working relationship and if we could ultimately replicate our model of success to make them explode on social media. We ended up putting our heads together, said yes and that was the birth of A&E as a digital marketing agency!
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There are so many mistakes I have made along the way — Amra and I did not come from a marketing agency background. I am a New York barred attorney, and Amra was at the time working on World Bank projects in Washington, D.C. I remember when we were first requested by a client to do a fashion photo shoot for their digital channels, we didn’t understand that we had to have had a stylist for our models; we assumed that the photographer could do both styling and shooting, like we had done in the past as a start up that required its team to be multi-faceted. So, when the photos came back, although the photography itself was spectacular, we remember looking in complete disarray because the stylist was missing and the brand identity was not clear. The client was satisfied I believe because of the quality of the photo shoot but I knew that we did not do our best because the brand identity was not set ahead of time and clearly defined for the creative team.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Albeit a small milestone, I think the tipping point was when our work turned from collaboration on an exchange basis to the first $99 we earned for a post. I understood that early spring afternoon that if we could make $99, we could make a $1,000,000 because we learned the way. Absolutely, we started negotiating with brands to do paid sponsorships rather than work on an exchange basis. Yes, the takeaway — start small, it’s all in the “baby steps” so to speak; we built our portfolio, as influencers, at first on an exchange basis. Once we had a robust portfolio, we had a significant amount of partnerships for brands to take notice and contract us for paid partnerships.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think A&E really stands out because our DNA is digital — Amra and I started as influencers on Instagram in 2012 before the term influencer marketing was even coined. We didn’t turn digital overnight like many agencies that have been around since 1970s. Also, we invested into proprietary technology and image classifiers that garnered us a database of over 500,000 Instagram influencers and identified their niches from health and wellness to fashion and beauty.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I think we are working on exciting projects all of the time at A&E. We’ve seen this trend and really a shift in digital marketing, where companies are making sure to implement some sort of social responsibility into their products or operational practices. I cannot talk about the ongoing campaigns because of confidentiality clauses we sign but I can give you examples of campaigns we have worked on whose essence was social responsibility. For example, last Christmas and New Year, we worked with Huawei and a California based non-profit, Rainforest Connection, where the non-profit used Huawei’s recycled cell phones to make what are called Guardian Devices to detect illegal logging in the Amazon. Another example of eco-conscious campaign was with VF Corp — Timberland, one of its brands, partnered with Marcolin Eyewear, and created a line of sunglasses called Earthkeepers that are made from recycled plastics and food waste. Some of our beauty clients, which are start-ups and mid-sized companies, are focused on the quality of their ingredients, like Puristry has the USDA organic seal and Free Girl Skincare has the Made Safe seal, which means that the product is made with nontoxic chemicals.
For me, this is personally rewarding as I see the world — through consumers’ choices — moving in a better direction. Labels like vegan and at minimum cruelty free in the cosmetics industry are becoming more common. Also, in the fashion industry, with brands like APL and Yes And, there has been a whole movement of sustainable clothing, e.g., vegan sneakers or textiles made from organic cotton and without toxic dyes like chlorine bleach, acetone or heavy metals. I think by marketing these movements, consumers can be more aware and make more educated shopping decisions.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would give marketers, and budding entrepreneurs, the following advice — the career or company you are building is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It will take a lot of patience and failures to achieve success. Do not perceive the failures as setbacks but rather as opportunities to learn and grow. I remember we failed when we invested into developing proprietary technology and image classifiers. Instagram, in October 2017, shut down its API, so we could no longer gather data on influencers. The project burnt a huge hole in the company’s pocket but we had to keep moving and make the best of what we had — which was a huge database of influencers across industries and across the globe. I learned about technology like Google’s Tensor Flow, Google Cloud and Stripe. With all of the commotion, give yourself a little break and make a point to take those trips that will clear your mind and give you a better perspective when you distance yourself from the problem.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely, I think for us it was the many reporters and producers form Financial Times to Bloomberg TV that recognized our company very early on. I remember Jonathan Margolis, a highly respected technology reporter, for the Financial Times had come into our office in Times Square when we had just moved into the space. It is those early recognitions form authorities that sort of give you wind in the back by recognizing our work in the digital marketing space and boasting about us as founders and the company.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?
I think there are many brilliant marketing campaigns, and there is so much incredible talent; the difference is that some marketing campaigns have much more ad dollars to work with and hence the exposure is 100x or 1,000x. With that said, one of my favorites is the Think Different commercial narrated by Steve Jobs. It’s the one in which he says:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs … thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things….they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do commercial.”
The messaging is so powerful — to believe in yourself, not to be afraid to stand out, pursue your own dreams and create what did not exist before. With that said, Steve Jobs worked relentlessly with marketing agencies, speech writers, and had earned at that point ad dollars to push the message forward to be exposed to hundreds of millions of people time and time again.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
I think behind many successful campaigns stand the ability to sponsor media to push the message forward. With that said, I think the other factor is the ability to articulate a message in way that moves human emotion. The third component is to have an aesthetically talented team that is able to execute on the vision in a way that speaks to the target demographic.
An example that I like that we worked is the Huawei campaign where we partnered with a California based non-profit, Rainforest Connection, which was using recycled Huawei-phones to detect illegal logging in the Amazon. Part of the campaign’s mission was to have influencers encourage their followers to use “non-traditional” Christmas trees and for every image the followers uploaded of their own non-traditional Christmas tree and tagged Huawei, Huawei matched with $1 donation to Rainforest Connection. So, the goal was to keep posting and spreading the message through influencers, their followers, and their communities. It was a very powerful message for environment conservation and especially during that time of the year — the holidays.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
I see the future of marketing being almost entirely digital. I think influencers play an important part of the digital marketing, dare I even say, a revolution because the traditional celebrity endorsements have been in part side stepped and influencers have become major advocates for brands and/or causes. Platforms, like Facebook and Google, are great for direct marketing but for what used to be once upon a time a radio DJ endorsing a product — a third party endorsement — influencers have taken center stage. As technology continues to evolve, influencers continue to proliferate and in different niches, so it makes it easy for brands to plug them in various campaigns.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.
I would say three lessons I learned are of the utmost importance –
1. You don’t need a mentor, the market is your mentor. Listen to the market. Either your idea is working or it is not. If not, do not be discouraged, the market is simply telling you to modify and adapt. Customers are going to vote with their dollars — just make sure you are at the right place at the right time with your product. An example of us listening to the market is that we had an overwhelming amount of campaigns and were working relentlessly because our prices were too low. In that case, adjust the prices — the demand is too high — and you will work less and focus to increase the profit margin.
2. Timing — make sure you are not too late or too early in the market, both can be problematic. Is it a mature market? Is it a novel concept? I think for us as a digital marketing agency, whose focus is on social media and influencer marketing, Amra and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time in 2012 when the role of social media in marketing was getting shaped and becoming defined.
3. Work as a personal assistant to the CEO of a company you desire to build. Amra and I started in the marketing world as influencers, and then turned A&E into a digital marketing agency — so we did it the long way. Rather, be a personal assistant to the CEO and learn the ins and outs of that business before embarking upon a journey to your build your own company. Is this something your stomach can muster? What does it look like to reach the top of the hill? Is it really what you had envisioned? How do you acquire and keep customers?
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
Yes — become a master of social media platforms, which change on a daily basis, adding more tools/technologies, to help businesses. For example, Instagram has developed and continues to evolve its insights and analytics, its store, and features like IGTV that all enable businesses to reach their target demographic and have them directly shop while browsing the platform.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I follow a lot of companies, which I think have done particularly superb branding, such as Dior, Amazon (yes, the latter two have very different target demographics), and Net-a-Porter on Instagram, to understand how they are marketing to their target demographic. What campaigns are they doing on social media? What formats are they using? How are they working with influencers — as brand ambassadors, one off paid campaigns, launching limited edition collections, influencer trips, etc.? I think it is powerful to watch campaigns evolve in real time, and especially with social media providing us immediately with direct feedback from the customers, rather than listening or reading about a campaign after the fact.
Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?
I think Jeff Bezos is a hero — although I say that with a huge disclaimer, as we are all humans at the end of the day with our own fears and insecurities — because of his persistence to transform Amazon into the company that it is today. I remember during my junior year at Georgetown I had tried ordering books from Amazon, this was 2006 and none of the books ever arrived. I had asked many of my friends around the campus about Amazon Books, and the common response was “don’t bother, just go to the bookstore.” In other words, not long ago, Amazon was not functioning properly even with its only specialty — selling books. It wasn’t until 2016 — the year of the launch of the Second Prime Day — again that I saw Amazon prime boxes being stacked up in front of residential buildings around New York City. Hence, 10 years after my first attempt to order online from Amazon, and Amazon had been in existence since 1994, Amazon was shaping itself to be a digital Wal-Mart. Amazon Prime to become mainstream was in the making for 22 years!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement — or work on a movement — as a marketer, I would definitely love to bring an end to plastic use and market an alternative, which is easy to decompose without damage to the planet. Plastics have done a great deal of harm to our environment, from our landmass to our oceans — killing marine mammals and fish, which become entangled in the plastic or swallow it by accident. I watched on BBC that we are drowning ourselves in plastic because the plastic takes an enormous amount of time to decompose, from 10 years (a really fast track for plastic bags) to 450 years (a slower track for plastic bottles); and some plastic takes up to 1,000 years to decompose! Moreover, humans end up swallowing a lot of the plastic, which is eaten by fish and humans in turn eat those fish. It would be incredible to be part of several campaigns calling an end to use plastic and as a result many animal lives would be saved and much of our environment would be preserved.
How can our readers follow you online?
My readers can follow me on Twittter and Instagram @elmabeganovich ☺
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.