Lisa Benson is Vice President at IMG Models. Photo courtesy IMG Models / Thomas Herd
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The digital age and the social media boom that followed have left their impact on nearly every industry under the sun, and the fashion industry is no exception.
A crucial component of fashion, and arguably a sub-genre of it, is modeling. As an industry, it is valued at about $8 billion, which in turn means many parties have vested interest in it doing well.
Naturally, the world of modeling has experienced its own evolution in response to digitalization and the widespread use of social media campaigns by brands.
One key player in modeling has seen it all—Lisa Benson, with her nearly 19 years of experience has witnessed everything from changes in style, looks, scouting, and how jobs are executed and distributed.
Having started her professional career at the world’s leading agency, IMG Worldwide, as a receptionist out of college, Benson’s dedication, passion, and work ethic have allowed her to progress in tandem with the company and modeling industry as a whole.
Today, she holds the prestigious position of Vice President, which gives her a unique understanding and perspective of the current market, trends, and how to position talent as more than just models.
Having grown up loving fashion and religiously reading Vogue, a career in the industry was not a stretch for Benson. However, she ended up at IMG by chance. After studying business at Penn State she had just started an internship in the buying department at Saks Fifth Avenue, but when 9/11 suddenly shook up the country that opportunity ended.
Luckily—and what now can be said as serendipitous—a family friend was able to get her in the door at IMG, where a new fashion division was being created.
And so, Benson began her journey with the company as a receptionist, consistently and quickly moving up in the ranks. Although her impressive trajectory can make it seem like it was all smooth sailing, but that’s not the case, especially when joining an unfamiliar and ever-developing field. In fact, one of Benson’s favorite sayings aptly describes her take and experience, “failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of it; so many people miss this point. I have learned so much from my failures and they have made me stronger,” she notes.
Regardless of the ups and downs, Benson loves her job, especially the challenges and the unique experience of working with a global team.
“We get to meet and work with such a diverse group of people and talent—hearing their visions, strategizing, and then seeing their dreams come to fruition is incredible and very rewarding. It’s never the same day, ever,” she explains of her role.
One key thing that has helped Benson at IMG and in the industry is her people skills, and ability to be highly organized while remaining calm and flexible amidst last-minute job or client changes.
Having to deal with big personalities—whether of the talent, a notable photographer, or an esteemed couture designer—takes a lot of patience, which not everyone can handle, let alone thrive amidst such creatives. In spite of the chaos that can occur on a given day, the possibilities for life-changing experiences are endless too.
For instance, one wild shoot ended up on a plane. “I once did an ‘outer space’ themed shoot with a client in a Zero G plane…the plane would drop thousands of feet in the air and everyone was weightless—the photographer, the model, the crew and myself,” Benson says of the unforgettable day.
In terms of the changes she and the company have had to adapt to, the main one is the effect social media has had on both talent and jobs. Models used to be just that, models, but what began with the supermodels of the ‘80s and ‘90s—when talent turned into household names—has evolved into brands. This is something Benson is incredibly passionate about as it allows models to be so much more than glorified mannequins.
The change allows talent to be seen for the multifaceted people they are, by being able to pursue their unique interests and goals. Additionally, this gives talent the chance for a stable career post-modeling—whether in acting, writing, or for the entrepreneurial types, starting and running their own companies.
The proliferation of social media gives talent a platform to showcase their personality, something that was missing in the glossy editorials of past generations. Social media is also a great place to source new and emerging talent.
While in the past open calls and scouting at malls, schools, and other common teen hangout spots was the only way of finding new faces, today there is a nearly limitless social world to dive into.
Whether it be on Instagram or TikTok, IMG and Benson have embraced the shift and the endless possibilities it holds.
“As the industry progresses and new platforms and fashion outlets come about, the one thing that will always remain a constant is that we’re always looking for the next star; finding great talent is irreplaceable,” says Benson.