In 2014, imagining two million followers on Instagram was a powerful goal. That was the year that Amra Beganovich, and her sister Elma began their social media, brand-building business, A&E Digital Agency. Their clients today include global brands like Nestlé, LVMH, Johnson & Johnson and Wells Fargo.
A&E grew their brand advocacy business by telling great stories. Why do they excel in this? Perhaps because the sisters live a “rags to riches” life. You might call it a Cinderella story.
Amra was born in Yugoslavia in 1983 and Elma was born in 1985. Their lives changed dramatically in 1992, when Yugoslavia was partitioned into five countries: Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. This sparked a brutal four-year war that perpetrated genocide and ethnic cleansing by the Serbs against the other nationalities. The capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo, where the sisters were born and lived, was under siege from 1992 to 1995 by the Serbians. Daily and nightly bombings and shootings were the routine of their young lives.
For much of the time, the people in Sarajevo had no electricity, running water, or gas. The Serbs blockaded ground transport of food and medicines. Food was airlifted into the city, mostly rice and beans. Back then, I remember reading about the heroic editor of Sarajevo’s daily newspaper who dreamed about the return of normalcy as being able to pay a bill for services like electricity.
In 1994, the sisters and their mother managed to escape to a refugee center in Finland. Their father, a doctor, stayed in Sarajevo to help save lives.
In 1995, right before the Bosnian war ended, Amra’s father flew to Louisville, Kentucky where he was granted refugee status. Amra, Elma and their mother arrived soon after carrying only a small suitcase among them. Since the girls had learned English from their parents, they were able to attend public school.
Amra did not want to feel like a victim after all the hardships they had endured. She chose to major in economics at George Mason University so she could understand how nations could cooperatively develop societies to escape the conflicts she experienced. Elma studied government at Georgetown University and became a lawyer.
The sisters were insatiable learners. In 2014 they taught themselves programming from YouTube tutorials and other forums. They became computer wonks, and also, graphic designers, photographers, front-end developers, and digital user experience specialists.
That same year, they started a blog, Clubfashionista, about lifestyle topics: fashion, friendship, and fun. They sent it to friends who shared it with their friends. The blog took off and reached over 150,000 unique monthly visitors in just three months after launch. This attracted the attention of fashion and beauty companies who wanted A&E to feature their products on their blog.
To keep costs down, the sisters were photographed wearing their clients’ clothing and accessories in glamorous locations. These campaigns created excitement and engagement for client products.
In 2016, they attracted the attention of celebrity fashion designer Nicole Miller and featured her clothing on their social channels.
Today, A&E, is a full-service digital agency for fashion, beauty, tech, food, and travel with two million followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The sisters target different social media platforms for clients.
Their rigorous metrics track the impact of client brand campaigns: growth in new audiences and impressions or clicks; returns on investment (ROI); and also swipe-ups, which track conversions from different influencers via direct links to brand landing pages.
How do they stay relevant? Their followers, in a Covid-19 world, want to buy from brands that lead with sustainability, authenticity, and care about their communities. They create authentic and compelling content like their “insta-stories” about daily life in New York City.
Clients are now asking them to create social impact campaigns. The most recent environment protection campaign included Huawei’s partnership with the Rainforest Connection, a California-based startup that uses Huawei’s recycled phones to make devices that detect illegal logging in the Amazon. They also worked with Timberland and Marcolin Eyewear to promote Earthkeeper sunglasses, which are made from bio-based materials and recycled plastic.
The sisters’ desire to give back is strong. The hardships they experienced taught them not to take anything for granted. Amra believes that A&E’s success comes from her vivid memories of the war. She is grateful for the hardships her family experienced. These made her resilient and passionate about the power of surviving and making life better for others.
The war taught them the importance of believing they can control their destiny. Amra says, “None no one can steal our dreams from us unless we let them.” She remembers poet Maya Angelou. who said, “I say ‘thank you’ for all the tough times.”