Life & Culture

The Jewish talent agency that is turning likes ’n’ clicks into cash

Meet the founders of a slick enterprise born in a lockdown bedroom


If the younger members of your family are always scrolling on their phones, laughing at the latest memes or forwarding endless TikTok videos to one another, they might be exactly the kind of people Connect Management wants to hire.

The plucky start-up talent agency was born in the bedroom of Benjy Leslie during lockdown, after he found himself furloughed from his job in advertising sales.

Now his agency, which he runs with his business partner Maya Orr, is the fastest- growing social first talent agency, representing 150 influencers and household named brands.

Through a mix of unbounded energy and fierce ambition, the two young Jewish business owners have built an impressive and commercially slick enterprise that turns likes and clicks into sales and cash.

Their combined background in sales and PR has seen them rapidly build a roster of clients who may not be household names to you or me, but are instantly recognisable to Gen Z, Gen X and even Gen Alpha (no, me neither).

When the 24-year-old Leslie old left school, he went straight into working for his father’s business selling travel advertising, but his initial success was short-lived. “I worked there for three years and built up my black book with contacts and brands,” he says.

“Then all of a sudden Covid struck and nobody wants to spend any money to advertise to travellers, because obviously no one was travelling. That business pretty much went from doing £150 million in revenue to zero overnight.”

So he did what every aspiring young entrepreneur dreams of, and started his own business, using the skills he had built up since leaving school and skipping university.

“One of my friends, Brandon Baum, a Jewish boy from Bushey, was posting every single day through lockdown on social media and gained a million followers, doing visual effects.

"So he and I sat down and said right, I’ve got background in advertising, he’s got an audience of a million people, surely there’s something that we can do to drive revenue and make some money.

"I was working from my bedroom, and for a good nine months grew the business to a point where I had 15 talents just from recommendations through Brandon,” he explains, sitting in his Instagram-friendly London office.

The entire place looks like a sort of playroom where people just happen to do a bit of work as well.

A giant fairground-style boxing machine greets visitors on the way in, and a (free) drinks vending machine offers up everything from Evian to the social media hit drink Prime.

“Have a can,” Orr tells me, “and give it to your nephew. He’ll be impressed you got hold of one.” They’ve been so viral you can’t find a can for less than £10. And yes, my nephew was impressed, until he tasted it.

At 36 years old, Orr started out her PR career in more traditional settings. After working for the supermarket giant Lidl, she moved to Lad Bible Group. If you spend any time online, you might know its massively viral videos, which at one point seemed to dominate everyone’s social media timelines.

The two met ringside at a YouTube boxing match. “He was there with a talent and one of my titles, Sport Bible, was sponsoring.

Boxing events are definitely not my normal outside work activity!” she explains, fluttering the most extraordinary set of glamour-puss eyelashes I’ve ever seen on a real person.

But underneath the platinum blonde hair and — on the day we meet — white-on-white Betty Boo outfit lies an astute and sharp businesswoman who knew she’d found something special.

After the boxing match, the two met at Connect’s offices and it was a business match made in internet heaven.

“I had this pinch-me moment. I was so impressed by all of them. I was like, I could add so much value to this business,” Orr says. “I really feel like they’re going to be the future.

"They’re going to be the next big thing. So as Ben walked me to my car after the meeting, I said to him, ‘you need me’, and he said, ‘I know we do.’

“We just started speaking all the time. We had several meetings and they made me an offer to join the business as partner and managing director.”

While Orr has kept herself up to date with the latest marketing and PR practice — moving away from TV adverts and posters on the sides of busses to online social media video content and influencer tie-ins — the majority of her staff and colleagues were born using social media: 85 to 90 per cent of the agency is made up of Gen Z workers (those born between 1997 and 2012).

“There’s a few millennials as well,” says Orr, “but we’re working with a team of people whose bread and butter is social, they understand it.” In other words, the youngsters walking around the office all had an iPhone shoved into their hand around the time their cord was cut, and they haven’t put them down since.

Leslie and Orr have built up an impressive roster of talent, many of whom are also Jewish. And they’re doing their bit to help Israel, too, having organised a special trip to the Jewish state with Vibe Israel for six top social-media influencers from the UK.

Between them, the TikTok stars have 15 million followers who got to know the spirit and the diversity of the Israeli people through regular posts online made during their visit.

From their buzzing office in Willesden, they work with some of the biggest brands and agencies in the world, their collective talent roster boasts over 170 million followers globally, engaging with over 400 million people on a monthly basis.

They represent the TikTok sensation turned UK Eurovision superstar Sam Ryder, who would probably have won the contest were it not for the war in Ukraine, and “Lioness” Lucy Bronze, the England women’s national team football player.

The professional skater and influencer Alex Murphy, who has won Dancing on Ice, is also one of theirs, as is Lara Cakes, a baker who makes incredible life-size cakes for stars including KSI and Jason Derulo.

The pair are excited to build on their success. For the second year running they’re working with BBC Children in Need to bring the legacy media charity brand into the social media age, and are ready to work more with Jewish charities also wanting to reach younger audiences.

They have plans to launch an outpost of their agency in Australia, and have recently jointly bought Eastbourne Borough FC.

“It’s the first time ever a non-league club is bringing in an agency to support and develop their players’ brand,” they boast.

“We are the shirt sleeve sponsors for the 2023/24 season, and our ambition across this sponsorship is to help accelerate the players’ social media presence as well as develop personal brands for each player.” A bit like Ted Lasso, with more Jews.

By the end of the year, they plan to have launched a new music offering as well, partnering with online music influencers who have millions of followers with hit songs, in a reinvention of the music industry’s traditional A&R model.

So, if your teenage, Gen Alpha, phone-addict children and grandchildren want to succeed, you could do worse than they suggest they knock on the agency’s door.

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