Christian Benjamin, owner of 12.26 Studios. (Courtesy Photo)

When Christian Benjamin’s mother passed away while he was in college, he decided to honor her memory through his career. In 2006, as a fine arts and visual communications student at Bowie State University in Maryland, he created the marketing campaign agency, 12.26 Studios.

“Twelve twenty-six is actually her birthday and the heart represents the passion behind what we do,” Benjamin told the AFRO, describing the company’s name and logo.

In 2012, he officially launched the company that has grown from one employee to over a dozen contractors – from videographers and documentarians to graphic designers and project managers. Together, team members work to create websites, press materials, social media strategies and more, sharing stories of brands, startups, nonprofits, and products.

“Our clients are like family – it’s almost like a record label type deal when you’re a part of the 12.26 Studios family,” he said. “You’re a part of everyone that we work with.”

Some of Benjamin’s most recognizable clients include the U.S. Department of Defense, the United Nations Foundation, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Madieu Williams, and Tiny’s Tequila.

At least 70 percent of his clients are based in D.C. such as celebrity chef James Robinson of KitchenCray and 13-year-old female music artist DJ Beauty and the Beatz.

Similarly, a large percentage of his clients are Black. “We don’t want to be known as the Black agency that works on Black projects,” Benjamin said. “We work on the best projects – it just happens to be that there are minority-owned companies out here that are the best projects that you didn’t know about.”

In working with clients, he said he digs deep to find the root of their stories. “I’d say 10 times out of 10, they are never the reasons that you expect. It’s usually not ‘I’m good in math and I want to be an accountant’, it’s usually ‘My father grew up working with his hands and I said I was never going to work with my hands so I started studying math a lot,’” he said. “Those are stories that draw people to whatever it is that you’re doing. If you’re trying to get people to help you build school in Sierra Leone, it’s the story of the children who don’t have a school to go to in Seirra Leone – it’s not the story of your logo, color scheme, and website. That stuff has to be good, but it’s only 20 percent of building a following.”

As a successful entrepreneur, Benjamin has many opportunities to travel for speaking engagements. More than promoting his company, he finds value in sharing his journey to youth.

“I’m a PG county guy. I had bad grades high school, dropped out of college, came back, left again, and was messing up in a lot of different ways,” he said. But he “flipped it around” and now sits on boards of several companies and works with nationally recognized clients.

“You’re going to be out in a year or in six months and if you find me, I’ll help you get an internship or I”ll lead you to the right person because you don’t have to be here. You can do anything,” Benjamin said he once told a group of juveniles at the Cheltenham Youth Facility.

“I don’t want to be D.C.’s best agency,” he says. “I want 12.26 to be one of the top agencies globally.”