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Raymond Braun, like many millennials, wears several hats. The 26-year old is at once a social media influencer, former Google manager, journalist, entrepreneur and social justice advocate. Named among the most influential LGBT people in the world by Out Magazine and called a “rising social media star” by MTV, Fortune 500 companies and Hillary Clinton’s campaign have turned to Mr Braun for help in reaching young people online.
It may then come as a surprise that Mr Braun says it all began with AOL’s clunky dial-up internet connection. As a gay kid growing up in a conservative Ohio town, the now-extinct modem unlocked web forums like LiveJournal, where he found the first “glimmer of hope”, he says, after years in which he felt isolated: “I could google the word ‘gay’ and go to these message boards and actually see stories from people that sounded like me.”
Once Mr Braun entered the halls of high school, a video site called YouTube had begun to gain traction, becoming a place for the queer community to connect — while also tearing up the rule book for Hollywood as ordinary users scooped up massive followings online. “No longer were you beholden to TV studios to see images of yourself in media and culture,” he says. “If you are a black trans girl in the Deep South, you can find a YouTube video from someone who has had similar experiences to you.”
Mr Braun’s fascination with the web as a space for diverse communities took him on a serendipitous path. After graduating from Stanford he joined Google’s competitive graduate marketing programme, where he had to bridge the gap between Hollywood and YouTube — at a time when social media stars were still viewed as the Wild West of the entertainment industry.
Mr Braun noticed the outsized LGBT presence pulsing through YouTube’s ecosystem and, in his “20 per cent time”, during which Google employees were allowed to pursue their own projects, he hatched an idea.
At 23, he pitched YouTube’s chief marketing officer, Danielle Tiedt, a plan to launch Google and YouTube’s first LGBT marketing campaign — pegged to two US Supreme Court decisions on aspects of same-sex marriage (not legalisation). It was a “pretty bold move”, he says. “Many companies just weren’t entering in those conversations at that time.”
The #ProudToLove campaign drew accolades and thrust one of the world’s largest corporations into a leadership role in the LGBT movement. It catapulted Mr Braun into a formal position heading LGBT marketing and partnerships at YouTube, where he has “left a permanent imprint” on the company’s culture, says Ms Tiedt.
A few years later when another big moment approached — this time a Supreme Court ruling that could (and did) legalise same-sex marriage across the US — Mr Braun again felt an itch. “The news alert came up on my phone and my heart literally stopped. I had to be a part of it,” he says. He left his YouTube job for an unpaid sabbatical, living off savings while volunteering for non-profit organisations, including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, to get the most out of the moment online.
He dipped his toes into performing on the platform he had become an expert in promoting, launching his own YouTube channel. It has since won more than 21,000 subscribers and had 1.9m views.
Companies and non-profits these days come to him for advice on tapping into the millennial zeitgeist, as well as into the LGBT community, which holds more than $900bn in spending power, according to an analysis by Witeck Communications.
Mr Braun’s guidance to brands is to amplify the voice of the consumer, instead of “trying to reinvent the wheel and put a rainbow on it”.
“A quote that has always resonated with me is, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu’.” he says. “My mission is to open up a seat for as many people as I can.”
Top 50 Future LGBT Leaders
1 Raymond Braun chief executive and founder, RWB Media
2 Simon Rodgers corporate events strategic account manager, Aviva
3 Aritha Wickramasinghe associate, K & L Gates
4 Pips Bunce global head of GM technology integration components, Credit Suisse
5 Nick Deakin investment banking associate, Citi
6 Mark McBride-Wright senior safety engineer, KBR
7 Tamoor Ali corporate finance manager, BP Treasury, BP
8 Rica Paras technology solution planning manager, Accenture
9 Anthony Shop co-founder and chief strategy officer, Social Driver
10 Catherine Hennigan senior analyst, Goldman Sachs
11 Darren Beaumont technology product manager, Deutsche Bank
12 Em Sendall manager, consulting, Deloitte UK
13 Rupert McCann director head of Emea prime client on-boarding, Credit Suisse
14 Helen Slinger senior manager, PwC
15 Jose Alberto Pino Andrade consumerism value chain manager, Dow Chemical Company
16 Krishna Omkar associate, Slaughter and May
17 Marijn Pijnenburg global business development executive, IBM
18 Ramses Aldana manager, management consulting, products industry, Accenture Mexico
19 Quentin Goodwin head of commercial, SABMiller
20 Cory Valente R&D leader, strategic recruiting, Dow Chemical Company
21 Ali Hannon communications manager, American Express
22 Stuart Barette CMB IT infrastructure streamlining manager, HSBC
23 James Davies head of campaigns and international markets, marketing, Asia Pacific, HSBC
24 Jean-Luc Vey innovation manager, Deutsche Bank
25 Jessica de Kramer vice-president, senior accounting analyst, asset servicing, BNY Mellon
26 Kyle McQueen strategic transformation manager, Barclays
27 Rashanne Coke specialist, banking and research, Thomson Reuters
28 Martin Gilbert business services quality coordinator, Direct Line Group
29 Emmeline Tang Emea engineering manager, Amazon Web Services
30 Niarchos Pombo head of diversity and inclusion, Latin America and Caribbean, SAP
31 Alessandro Commisso, senior manager, global brand and digital, Lush Cosmetics
32 Andrew Jakubowski, associate, Oliver Wyman
33 Dave Carlos, senior sustainability communications consultant, JLL
34 Filipe Mota Da Silva, business development executive, energy and commodities, Infosys
35 Jens Audenaert, vice-president & general manager, ADP Ventures, ADP
36 Scott Allardyce, commercial, privacy and product counsel, King
37 Danielle de Sousa, manager, Customer Success, LinkedIn
38 Adrien & Pierre Gaubert, co-founders, myGwork
39 Barry Whyte, COO, Decoded
40 Samuel Rensing, consultant, Boston Consulting Group
41 Daniel Docherty, vice-president & business support manager, Global Corporate Services, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
42 Christina Riley, senior planner, Balfour Beatty
43 Jill Pollock, product & privacy counsel, King
44 James Pineda, auditor, ExxonMobil
45 Dan Ricard, consultant, PwC
46 James Allan, head of corporate banking FX, Barclays
47 Jason Eng, engineering team lead, Bloomberg LP
48 Mohsin Zaidi, barrister, 6 KBW College Hill
49 Liam Rezende, marketing communications manager, Andaz London Liverpool Street
50 Ben Cawley, senior account manager, Standard Chartered Bank