Robert Ray is ‘Mr Barclays’ at the Media Centre. Claire Beale says it
Despite appearances, Robert Ray must have balls of steel.
This is the guy who was slapping on the factor 15 on a Florida beach,
playing with his kids and paddling in the sea, doing holiday stuff,
while one of his major clients was reviewing its business.
Mr Ray is ‘Mr Barclays’ at the Media Centre, where he is also the joint
deputy managing director. While he was sweating in the Florida sun, his
colleagues were sweating blood in the Barclays Bank centralised media
Lesser men would probably have cancelled their holiday or spent the
entire two weeks shaking sand out of their laptop and mobile phone, but
Ray didn’t even call in to see how it was going. Is this one cool guy or
what? So Ray got his holiday and, last week, the Media Centre got the
entire pounds 18 million Barclays Bank account, seeing off competition
from J. Walter Thompson, BMP DDB, Optimedia and fellow incumbent,
Not that Ray was complacent about winning, but, he says,‘any client that
you work with will judge you on more than your performance on the day of
the pitch’ and the Media Centre, he argues, has worked hard to ensure
that its clients get the best possible service year-round. The company’s
track record for Barclays over the past few years is understood to have
clinched the business.
Physically, Ray is hardly the sort of Titan you’d be scared of in a
pitch. He looks like you’d wind him if you sneezed in his general
direction. You know those books that promise to teach you ‘exercises to
build you into a real man’? Well, they were written for shoulders like
these. He’s the ‘before’ to Charles Atlas’s ‘after’.
And he looks so bloody young. Maybe it’s his pre-pubescent frame, maybe
it’s his ability to holiday happily during a review. He’s really quite
proud of being Peter Pan. Virtually the first thing he tells me is the
trouble he has getting into nightclubs - no-one believes he’s over 21.
He’s actually 34, has been married for 11 years and is a father of
three: ‘my family planning is definitely worse than my media planning,’
But for all his boyish, er, looks and under-developed pecs, Ray packs a
mean punch when it comes to media. He’s Earthworm Bob, according to his
fellow deputy managing director, Chris Locke, after the cartoon
character, Earthworm Jim - a weedy little grubby thing, which puts on
this costume and becomes a superhero. ‘Robert is very intense, very
focused. He knows every single facet of his clients’ business,’ Locke
says. ‘His whole ethos is ‘what else can we do for the client?’’
For Eric Newnham, the managing director of Poster Publicity, Ray is a
straightforward, no bullshit kind of bloke, impossible not to like and
And it’s not just colleagues and suppliers who are keen to sing his
praises. Barclays’ director of personal banking, Gordon Rankin,
describes Ray as a ‘first-class, consummate media professional, very
creative and responsible for a major input into our strategic thinking.
He’s also the only man I know who’s worse at golf than I am. He
discovers parts of the course that even the greenkeepers don’t know
Jim Marshall, the managing director of the Media Centre, doesn’t appear
worried that the next generation is snapping at his heels. ‘Robert is
unbelievably ambitious. But he’s like a little microcosm of the Media
Centre, really. Very hard-working, very client-focused, proactive rather
than reactive, and quite an aggressive little bugger when required,’ Mr
Marshall enthuses. ‘Oh, and he comes from Yorkshire so he probably keeps
ferrets down his trousers.’Ray denies the ferret charge, but admits to
being ‘very competitive - sometimes too competitive.’ Being a
Yorkshireman by birth, this competitive streak manifested itself at
an early age with whippet racing, although his dog was more interested
in pissing on the starting post than chasing the rabbit.
As a media man looking middle age in the eye, this competitive streak is
now evident in his desire to dress in leathers and escape to a gravel
pit to ride trial bikes very fast in races. At least he makes it past
the starting post nowadays.
Ray makes no secret of his professional hunger: ‘I want to run a
business, be a managing director.’ Right now, though, he’s very
happy helping the Media Centre wipe the floor with the opposition.
‘There’s no better media brand in the UK at the moment,’ Ray
insists, with an earnestness guaranteed to dispel cynicism. ‘There’s a
fantastic array of innovation and creativity here and I want to drive
that forward, be part of that success. And win more new business.’ Hasta
la vista, Earthworm Bob.
The Ray file
1983 Lintas, media planner/buyer for Unilever
1986 Davidson Pearce, media planner
1987 DMB&B, senior media planner, then group planning director
1995 The Media Centre, joint deputy managing director