The appointment comes eight months after the NS parted company with its previous marketing chief, Russell Collier. He left after less than a year following reported clashes of style with some NS members.
Ray, 42, joins the NS having appeared in its "creating new perspectives" ad campaign when he was a joint managing director of MediaVest UK. The ads featured a number of leading adland figures including the McCann Erickson chairman, Rupert Howell.
David Newell, the NS director, said Ray's appointment was in line with the organisation's plans to attract greater levels of regional adspend from national advertisers. "Regional press advertising is a £3 billion sector and the only above-the-line medium to have grown revenue every year for the past 12 years," Newell said. "The appointment of someone with Robert's agency and client experience shows just how serious the industry is about building on this success."
Ray, who has spent the past year running his own consultancy advising agencies, media owners and client companies, will take up his new job in early January.
His career spans more than two decades, beginning as a media planner.
He worked for SSC&B Lintas, Davidson Pearce and DMB&B and was one of the founder managers of The Media Centre, set up in 1991 out of DMB&B's media department.
It relaunched as MediaVest UK in 1997.
He was a joint managing director of MediaVest UK for four years until 2001, before heading the P&G business at Starcom Mediavest.
Ray said: "Major national brands are starting to recognise the benefits of getting closer to consumers through the regional press. I have always been a passionate believer in regional newspapers and relish the opportunity to work alongside these dynamic businesses to help them achieve their full potential."