As we continue our Influencer Interview series, today’s spotlight is on Ben Varquez, Managing Director of Youth Marketing Connection — a Remote Work Agency helping 250.000+ college students on their journey to becoming social influencers and creating intimate brand experiences setting them apart from many other agencies. Varquez grew outside of Philadelphia, attending The George Washington University, worked for a start-up in 2007 after he graduated, and then traveled for a year before getting ready to pick up a fun and exciting challenge in his life!
In his free time, Varquez loves to cook, exercise and is looking to travel in the future as well. We also spoke with him to give us his personal insight on some advice he’d give his younger self, how he landed his current position, what he has learned from social media over the past years as it continues to evolve, handling some of his stressful days, and more! Read on for the full conversation with Ben Varquez and connect with him at the bottom of this interview.
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- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? (Where you’re from, your hobbies, career, etc.)
- B: I grew up outside of Philadelphia and attended school in D.C. at The George Washington University, majoring in Business with concentrations in Marketing and Sports/Event Management. I graduated in 2007 (before start-ups were cool or well-funded) and went to work for a start-up developing navigation-based mobile applications for tourist destinations, including ski mountains, theme parks, and zoos. The economic crisis of 2008 dried up potential funding sources, and we closed operations. I traveled the world for a year and came back refreshed and ready to take on a new challenge. At that point I met the original founder of YMC and after a short time working together, took over the day-to-day operations as a partner in the business and Managing Director of the agency. In my spare time I cook almost every meal I eat, play ultimate frisbee, bocce, and pickleball, and try to be outdoors as much as possible including lots of hiking, camping, and when possible longer rafting and canoeing trips.
- What is your favorite thing about your position now with Youth Marketing Connection (YMC)? What advice would you give to those who are looking to work in the industry you’re in right now?
- B: My favorite part about my role at YMC is having the autonomy to manage almost every aspect of my day while dictating the strategic direction of the agency. My mind is very operationally-focused, so I enjoy the minutiae of running a business as much as the big creative side.
- My favorite part of YMC is the people. While I hate to throw around the term “blessed”, it’s truly how I feel about the team I get to work with every day, starting with our VP of Client Services Joanna DiGloria, who I respect immensely and value as my partner in running the agency. Partially through luck and partially through painstaking hiring, I also get to work with a group of skilled and impressive professionals that are also wonderful and kind people.
- In terms of getting into the industry, make every connection you can while in college by leveraging your Alumni association, career center, LinkedIn, local networking groups, and student orgs that you’re a part of. I played on the GW Club Ultimate Frisbee team for 4 years and am still connecting with current college members for professional opportunities. Please don’t think of making connections as “networking”. You’re building relationships—and if you have a transactional request, be straightforward about it. For most people at my stage of their life and career, time is their most valuable asset. So put the work in upfront to know exactly what you’re asking of someone and be direct with what you need help with.
- Beyond building your professional circle, if you’re interested in the world of brand and/or agency marketing try to take on ambassador, influencer, or other brand marketing roles on your campus (if possible) or in your market. Connect with staffing groups, agencies like YMC, and set up some Google alerts and other tracking mechanisms to spot opportunities.
- Finally, fight for every internship opportunity you can that looks interesting, is with a company you admire, or with a person you respect. The best way to get noticed beyond having a connection is to do your homework on the company and make sure that comes through in your application. LinkedIn and Glassdoor are very powerful tools for doing your due diligence.
- How do you handle your more stressful days? What are your best tips for those looking to balance work, life, and personal time for themselves?
- B: Everyone’s working style is different and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown companies that employees can thrive in various environments if given the tools, trust, and time. Reconnecting with nature and physical activity are my best stress relievers, in addition to cooking. In terms of finding balance in your personal and professional life, first you have to define what that means for you. I don’t mind waking up early, working a bit in the morning, taking some time off in the middle of the day for exercise or cooking a nice lunch, and then chipping away on projects for a little time at night if needed. I also respect and support anyone who thinks that sounds like a nightmare. If you want to “clock in” at 9am and do focused work until 5pm and that’s what it takes to do your job, go for it! At the same time, if you only have a few hours of work to do that day and your team members don’t need your support, go take the afternoon off and care for your mental, physical, and emotional health.
- As social media has continued to change and evolve over the last few years, what is something that you have learned? Has this skill helped you to do what you do today?
- B: A driving principle at YMC that I believe applies to all brands, especially on social media, is that authenticity trumps all else. Every brand needs to understand their reason for existing, as seen in the eyes of their consumers. Perception is reality. Once that’s understood, you can start to develop a strategy made up of stories, themes, and content around that core authentic purpose. Patagonia is a great example of understanding your brand’s core purpose and living that purpose through all of your actions as a business. Responsible Brands is a great platform with some excellent examples.
- What advice would you give your younger self after everything you have accomplished now and as you’re continuing to do even more amazing things in the future?
- B: I try to live without regrets (in a healthy way) and as a result, have developed quite a short-term memory. I think the best advice I would give my younger self is to be more discerning and critical of how I view success. My definition has changed drastically over the last 15 years, and I realized in hindsight that what I thought I was working towards wasn’t as perfectly aligned with my values as a person as I would have liked.
- How did you land your current and previous job positions? Have you always wanted to work with these companies before you landed the role?
- B: My first job out of college was the result of a random encounter at my internship with Destination DC doing tourism marketing and convention services. The founders of a start-up I ended up joining cold-called a meeting with my boss’s boss, and she asked me to sit with them instead of her. I was impressed with the concept and thought I could make a real impact, so I took their business cards and reached out to them a few weeks later pitching myself as their next hire. My current job came about through an introduction from a college friend of mine.
- Aside from social media, business and more, what are some of your favorite hobbies? Do you play any sports? Binge watch shows?
- B: I love to cook—and do so for almost every meal. I’m 100% in for anything outdoors including hiking, camping, backpacking, rafting, canoeing, climbing, social sports, or simply going for a walk. I played ultimate frisbee for a decade but eventually my body fell apart, so I took up bocce and lately pickleball, which are a blast. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but did really enjoy select seasons of The Good Place, Veep, Watchmen, Fleabag, Community, and Parks & Rec.
- Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Do you want to travel or move somewhere? Get a pet?
- B: Hopefully doing what I’m doing now with slightly more money in the bank and not so many more gray hairs on my head. I couldn’t be any more excited to get back to traveling once the pandemic is under control, and at some point I would like to get a second dog. My 3 year-old Australian Labradoodle, Tig, keeps me busy enough.
- What is your vision for yourself, your life, and your future?
- B: I want to be happy, be healthy, eat delicious food, and travel a ton.
If you enjoyed this interview with Ben and would like to see more, check out Youth Marketing Connection below!
If you’re looking to connect with Ben and want to learn more about YMC click here and to connect via LinkedIn!
All photos provided by Ben Varquez