In Conversation With Leila Bekhit, Client Director

Leila Bekhit, Client Director

8 March 2021

Kendra RogersHead of Insight & Strategy

This week I sat down with our Client Director, Leila Bekhit. Like a lot of the team at psLondon, Leila wears various hats: she takes care of our client relationships and ensures projects run smoothly, but she is also creative, with a keen eye for design and a strategic vein, working closely with clients on achieving their goals. Of course, these qualities are complimentary, so I was keen to tease out how her unique perspective feeds into the work she does.

We started with Leila’s role at psLondon. She’s a bit of a client guardian angel—I’ll let her explain.

LB: I’m the Client Director for University of East Anglia. One thing that drew me into this role was the idea of working with a single client, because I’ve always been kind of pulled across multiple sectors, and it can be hard to keep on top of everything that’s going on when you’re working that way. I thought it would be interesting to focus on a single industry, and a single organisation.

I’m essentially a project manager that leads a team and also thinks ahead. I make sure that projects run smoothly, we meet objectives and stay on budget. Then it’s a case of looking for opportunities where we can help the client with any bottlenecks that they might be having, and finding new ways of working with their teams.

“In a sense, I’m the ‘go between’ for the creative and the client side.”

I’ve got to keep my client hat on - the creative team will push our designs in bold new directions… I make those directions more feasible by considering them within the larger context and appetite of the organisation and the insight about our audience.

That’s not to say that Leila isn’t creative. She’s our resident crafter and is always sporting stunning handmade jewellery. I wondered how this creativity fed into her work.

LB: When I was in school, I always wanted to be a packaging designer. I did food tech, media and graphics with an aim of going down that route. But in the end, I chose to study advertising and branding. I still managed to gain experience on the creative side: creating concepts, adverts, designs, packaging, and branding.

That creative vision definitely feeds into what I do now. I think I can see things a little bit clearer from a creative lens. I had the chance to go down two paths and I’ve obviously gone down this one. But I’ve still got that history and that love of craft and design, of visuals.

“I’m never afraid to offer input in brainstorms or bring new ideas to the table.”

But how deep does this go? I asked Leila whether she saw herself as an artist, given how much creativity she puts into her crafts and other projects.

LB: I wouldn’t say that I’m an artist. It’s definitely something I enjoy—more of a hobby, and certainly one that kept me busy during lockdown. I think ‘jack of all crafts’ is a better way of referring to it, because I do kind of dabble in different things. I’ve been making jewellery since I was 10, that’s my main outlet. I also did pottery for three years and started knitting a couple of years ago too.

This creativity feeds into the way that Leila looks, both literally in the case of her jewellery, and in her personal sense of style. For our conversation she was sporting a black tee, trousers with tigers embroidered on them, and glittery earrings that were miniaturised UFOs complete with beams. It was a killer outfit and I wanted to know more about her outlook on self-expression.

LB: I just love patterns in general, the maximalist aesthetic. I don’t really want to look like everyone else. But it’s not for the reasons you might think. In fact, I have very low body confidence and am quite an introvert. Normally, when you see people wearing bright colours, you think, “Oh, they’re really outgoing. They want people to look at them.” But for me, it’s more like a distraction: don’t look at my body, look at the crazy patterns that I’ve got on. Almost a diversion tactic.

The way I dress is about inviting everyone to focus on something interesting—it’s a talking point, an icebreaker. It can help you find common interests and form a connection with someone you don’t know very well. I think it shows personality too: it tells people that there’s a dash of creativity in with the project management side of things, and that I work in a creative studio. Above all, I just love a good pattern, whatever it is; curtains, cushions, clothing. You can have wearable art, and that’s incredible.

“Why would you want something plain when you could have beautiful tigers or lilies on you?”

But where did this passion come from? I asked Leila about the influences behind her sense of style, specifically her love of patterns.

LB: I’ve been influenced by my grandma, who unfortunately is no longer with us. She was obsessed with William Morris. Obsessed. She kept a photo of him on her dresser. A lot of her blouses would be in that arts and crafts style and I think that a lot of what I wear now, she would probably have loved. We definitely would have bonded over some of that. She did a lot of watercolour painting too; the house was covered in her work. I’d like to think some of her creativity rubbed off on me.

I knew some of Leila’s family are from Egypt, and that she’s proud of her heritage. I asked her to tell me a little bit about how that influences who she is, and what perspectives she thought she brings to the psLondon team.

LB: Being mixed race you do feel torn sometimes. You identify more with one culture than the other. Being born and brought up in England, I do think of myself as more British than anything else. But at the same time, my dad is Egyptian. He comes from a big family, and being the only child in our family unit, there’s pressure to follow a certain path or act in a certain way. But at the same time, there are some benefits to this blended background.

We did a diversity workshop a couple of months ago, which challenged us to imagine that the person you’re designing or planning for is in the room with you. So, we need to think, “Is this going to offend anyone? Is this going to be welcoming to people of certain backgrounds or faiths?” As a Muslim, that’s something that I can offer a perspective on. For example, of course we should ensure different races and faiths are represented, but it’s about understanding little nuances too, like perhaps our work shouldn’t rely too heavily on photos of people drinking.

“It’s about taking a step back and making sure that we are all being represented.”

This outlook affects different aspects of working life. Obviously, I don’t drink, and it can feel somewhat alienating sometimes to be in an industry that is always so heavily focused on booze. It’s nice when agencies plan things that are oriented around an activity. That could be a museum or gallery trip, mini-golf. Luckily, at PS there’s a great culture and some sensitivity to that.

Finally, we talked clients. Given all the facets of Leila’s identity, and all of her interests, what would her dream client for psLondon be and why?

LB: It’s a hard one. Obviously, there are so many beautiful fashion designers and brands that would be amazing to work with. Gorman, for example, is a really interesting Australian company. They do really fun, bold prints. But I think with something like that, the designs speak for themselves. In terms of marketing, it’s always going to be that dress, or whatever it is, at the centre of attention.

Actually, I think the client I’d most like to work with is The Wellcome Collection. It’s one of my favourite places to visit. They bring together all of these weird and wonderful curiosities from different historical eras and cultures. I think, if we were able to do a guide book or something similar for them, it would be fascinating to both work on, and to read!

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