Leo Rayman is the founder and CEO of Grey Consulting, the consulting arm of advertising and marketing agency Grey Global Group. Prior to taking on the role in August 2018, he was Chief Executive of Grey UK.

Econsulancy spoke to Rayman to find out what his role has involved since founding Grey Consulting, how he measures success, the brands that have impressed him lately, and how healthy he believes strategy to be right now in the agency world.

Hi, Leo. Please describe your job: What do you do?

Leo Rayman: Since founding Grey Consulting my role has changed significantly – I still work with global brands, often in the creative space, but I now deal with a much more diverse range of clients on a day-to-day basis. From a traditional financial institute disrupted by fintech and blockchain to a pharmaceutical company that must tackle AI and bias, I now have to switch focus daily to meet very different needs. And I love it. It’s a different set of challenges entirely and ones you wouldn’t solve with communications alone.

It’s not only a different challenge, but it’s the reason why I founded Grey Consulting in the first place in order to meet different, specific business needs.

Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

Leo Rayman: I lead operations around the world as we have consultants based in London, New York and Los Angeles, among others. So I have people that report into me from around the world, but it’s not really about that. To me, it’s more important to have an open dialogue and conversation across all offices and teams to ensure we are working to the same goal.

Often it’s the case that a newly founded business will deviate from its vision to meet short-term revenue targets. I am dedicated to ensuring our work consistently provides original ideas and diverse perspectives that address the serious challenges in today’s business environment, i.e. exiting the European Union, ethical AI, data protection and much more. I founded the organisation to provide original thinking that moves the world forward.

What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

Leo Rayman: You need a powerful urge to discover new things and think ahead. So much of what the job is about is looking around the corner to see what’s coming next, and when we do so we can help the clients we work with to stay ahead of changing patterns of demand.

It’s also vital to have sheer resilience and energy, particularly when you are running a start-up. To get something off the ground from scratch and enter a new market is hard work.

To be effective you need the ability to listen actively. This may sound like a platitude and an obvious thing to say, but I think the advertising industry has a long history of being brilliant at presenting and pitching, and not necessarily quite so good at asking questions. And one thing you know about the consulting world is that they ask the killer questions, but that can only come after you listen.

Tell us about a typical working day…

Leo Rayman: I really like the days where you wake up, go to the gym early and then spend a good clear hour or two on your own before starting the day. During this time, I turn off my email, and instead use it as a time to pause and think and to make connections, which is your brain’s food. It’s a great way to get ready for the day ahead and I do it religiously. Then, the day starts and the focus switches to developing proposals, sharing projects and having interesting conversations.

Leo Rayman headshot

What do you love about your job? What sucks?

Leo Rayman: Traditional consultancies have been refusing to change, but what we are offering is new. It means I get to work with people who are interested to hear our story!

We’ve built a collective which means, we get to bring different types of people and personalities together. Seeing what starts to bubble up from this healthy collision of people is incredible. I’m so lucky to have exciting conversations and see ideas pop-out every day, the type that can genuinely take my breath away. Ideas can be so new and are often so fascinating that they can really make a breakthrough for an organisation.

What sucks is when you’re starting out, you have to manage the tensions in any small business of balancing your outgoings and your incomes. It’s hard – much harder than I felt in a larger organisation. This is where the importance of shared ambition and confidence in the team is so critical.

What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

Leo Rayman: I genuinely believe there is a better way to build businesses and companies. And I think it’s founded on having a much better appreciation of the different kinds of skills and perspectives that a modern organisation should bring together. We call it Wholebrain.

I’m really interested to take this approach and turn it into a viable commercial proposition, to prove to the world that being Wholebrain, and being genuinely open minded, is a way to succeed and overcome some of the more complex problems we all face.

In terms of KPIs, I guess my immediate focus is to continue to demonstrate that we can create a brand new, significant global revenue stream from new types of clients and new types of budgets.

What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

Leo Rayman: Slack is really helpful for the team. We all use WhatsApp of course and then some of the techniques like using a daily stand-up and a Kanban board are a little basic but they help keep us nimble and on-track.

How did you end up starting Grey Consulting, and where might you go from here?

Leo Rayman: We started Grey Consulting because we could see an unmet need in the market. And we’d been thinking for a while that there was value in the thought process behind creative agencies, one that is more powerful and goes beyond the value that’s realised through communications alone.

We are now establishing the next step. We want to be known for exceptional work and being more creative and more commercial than alternative providers to solve really tough business problems, the ones businesses just can’t crack alone. We’re being thrown some fascinating problems and we want to continue to build on this as a global offering.

Which brands have impressed you lately?

Leo Rayman: There is a firm called Rapanui which is a US-based, circular economy textile company. They have a factory that recycles t-shirt material into new products. It’s an incredibly ethical and sustainable ecosystem, and anyone can plug their designs into it via the cloud; the entire business model is built to be used by other people. Companies don’t have to waste time or resource setting up another factory. The factory is a backend that anyone can use: an entire business can be plugged into Rapanui’s network through the cloud.

The reason why I picked out Rapanui is because they are addressing the business challenge that sustainability can’t be profitable. The elephant in the room is money. For every $1 spent 0.3gms of carbon gets released. So we need that spending to be directed into carbon neutral products (at worst) and regenerative products (at best), i.e. things that make the world better rather than just removing the bad stuff. If buying sustainable products costs more, it will never scale.

How healthy is strategy right now in the agency world?

Leo Rayman: That’s a big question. How fit for purpose is agency planning at the moment? There are some core craft skills in creative agency planners that shouldn’t be underestimated, but clients have tough questions to answer and we need to help them address that in new ways.

Clients are talking about sustainability, transparency, data security, disruption, marketing operations and changing working practices and traditional agencies aren’t necessarily addressing these issues. Clients are asking, “how do I make more money for the business? How do I use digital channels to actually make a better difference for customers and create more profit?” These questions aren’t being answered very well in many cases.

It’s actually time to take strategy much more seriously and to learn from what is happening with management consultancies shifting into the creative space; we shouldn’t be frightened from them and need to adapt. What is the true value of creative thinking? How much difference can great strategic thinking create for a business?

Answering these questions is priceless. There is an opportunity to connect all of the wonderful, very unique and rare thinking that creative companies provide with the ability to create a powerful commercial outcome. It’s incredibly exciting.

Agency positioning – what does good look like?