Benson Means Business
An Interview with Vice President at IMG Models, Lisa Benson
In the ever-evolving industry of modeling, one thing remains constant. Lisa Benson. Seventeen years strong, starting as a receptionist and eventually earning the title of Vice President at IMG Models, one of the most prestigious talent agencies in the world, Benson has made it her mission to turn top talent into multi-dimensional brands. Driven by hard work and passion, Benson has played an integral role in shaping the industry into what it is today.
Could you give us some insight on your trajectory in the fashion industry and how you got started with IMG Models?
I always knew IMG as a sports agency because my father was a golfer. He went back and forth between professional and amateur golfing and was close friends with golfers such as Arnold Palmer, who founded IMG alongside Mark McCormack. I went to school at Penn State and when I graduated, I tried finding a finance job as I had a background in finance and international business with a minor in business law. I debated going to Wall Street but tried to keep my options open. I knew that I loved working with people and the fashion industry but I didn’t want to be on the buying side, which I learned while doing an internship at Saks Fifth Avenue. My father came home one day and told me that IMG had started a new fashion division. I sent my resume in and did an informational interview, later hearing that the only position they had open was in the models division as a receptionist.
I came in for a second interview with Ivan Bart and he introduced me to the entire team. I immediately thought to myself “Oh my god – I have to work here”. I felt this insanely powerful energy and knew it was the right place for me. I eventually became Ivan’s assistant and the rest is history. To this day, Ivan has been such a great mentor to me.
What is it like managing top IMG talent such as Chrissy Teigen, Lily Aldridge, Elsa Hosk, Hilary Rhoda, Nadine Leopold, Georgia Fowler, Halima and Chanel Iman?
Very busy but so exciting! I love that I found a niche for girls who I felt were professional, strong women that had a clear vision for their career. I love that each of them take their business and each opportunity very seriously. All of them are determined, smart and want to cross over into different things such as film and TV. At IMG, we’re lucky our models have access to so many different resources and can use our network to help build their career. With someone like Chrissy Teigen for example, we took her great personality and interest in cooking and used the Endeavor network to secure a cookbook and opportunities in TV that sit alongside her career in fashion.
With numerous agencies competing in the fashion space, what do you believe makes your management style unique?
My vision is always to build my clients into brands and in turn, that helps with longevity. We all work as a team here at IMG Models – each of us bringing a unique perspective to a client’s career. We love hearing a model’s story, seeing their true personality shine, and from there, we build a strategic plan around what is best for their career.
What strategic approach do you take to lead the women’s board at IMG and mentor the next generation of fashion leaders?
I always remember how many people helped me along the way, gave me advice or took the time to believe in me regardless of whether I was succeeding or failing. It’s so important to stop and give back, take the time to guide or advise the assistants or other managers on the team. I try to include the junior members on my teams on as much as possible, whether that be joining me at events, making introductions or sitting in on meetings or calls. At the end of the day, this is a hands on job that you can’t learn from a textbook!
You’re known for shaping a model’s image and voice beyond the core fashion work. How important is it today for models to be more than just an iconic image?
It’s really important. Clients are constantly asking us what our models are passionate about, what charities they’re aligned with and where their interests lie. In this day and age, with social media giving everyone the opportunity to express themselves, you have to be multi-dimensional – whether that might be through art, music, styling or cooking.
The fashion industry is ever-evolving with new technology and social media platforms. How do you stay ahead of the curve?
I read the New York Times or Business Insider when I have an extra minute in the morning. Whenever I’m invited to an event outside of my industry, I try to say yes. I recently was invited to a casual networking breakfast event that included all walks of business and I ended up meeting two people in technology, one of which I’ve kept in touch with and hope to work alongside in future. I also tap into the knowledge of my colleagues across Endeavor who work in the digital or social space – they help me keep updated on trends and new platforms.
You have been quoted stressing the importance of putting yourself out there and socializing with others in the industry to gain invaluable experience and build relationships that could be key to your future. We noticed that you were recently in Sardinia for the UNICEF fundraiser. How does networking at events like this play a role in your career?
I went specifically to Sardinia for the UNICEF event – it’s a huge cultural moment and it’s so important to be continually putting yourself out there internationally. At events like these, I’m always looking to meet new people, find new business opportunities and think about ways that I can connect brands with IMG Models, our clients and the broader fashion network at IMG. From there, it’s about coming back to New York and continuing to flourish those relationships with the hope of creating new, exciting opportunities.
What’s next for Lisa Benson?
I’m still growing and learning something new every day – whether that be coming across a new platform, meeting a new person or working with a new division within the company. Even though fashion is such a fast-paced industry, it’s important to take a moment and pursue something that’s outside of your traditional lane. Most recently, I produced an animated short film called “Burning Bright” which ended up winning awards in Paris, Prague, Florence and Austin. I want to continue building on these types of projects and creating opportunities for my talent to get involved.
I also just signed Julia Van Os, a girl who has so much potential. That still gets me going! It’s always exciting to jump in and start building a career alongside someone who is a hard worker, smart and has a clear vision of what they’d like to achieve. As I always say… dream big. This is just the beginning…