"I was working at the bar, and I got a call from my brother George, a media director at Benton & Bowles," explains Mr. Simko. "He said to me: `So you interested in getting a real job or what?' "
Mr. Simko was interested. He put together his resume and made the rounds of agencies, landing a job as an assistant planner with Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, New York.
"His ascendancy doesn't surprise me," says Allen Banks, exec media director at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, which owned Dancer & Fitzgerald when Mr. Simko worked there. "It was foretold. He's bright, articulate, personable. He's got all the tools."
Mr. Simko then passed through the media department at Grey Advertising, and in 1976, he found a home at Ogilvy & Mather, rising to senior partner-media head. He shed his Ogilvy title earlier this year when MindShare CEO Irwin Gotlieb, a 1999 Media Maven, tapped him to be the lead planning guru at the specialist media agency.
Mr. Gotlieb says he had looked at many candidates for the head media planner at MindShare, but Mr. Simko stood out largely for his personable nature, an important asset in the industry.
"In leadership you look for certain key qualities. Media fundamentals and media foundation are a given. In his case, it is the get-it-done attitude."
Mr. Simko is now the third person in a presidential MindShare troika that includes Jean Pool, president-operations, and Peter Chrisanthopoulos, president-national broadcast and programming.
"Ray is not one of those people with the desk totally empty and his feet up," says Ms. Pool, also a past Media Maven. "He's a worker and a smart man. He's also got a great sense of humor, which goes thundering miles in this business."
Mr. Gotlieb adds: "His troops revere him. He doesn't just dictate to them, he works with them. Clients love him because he comes up with great stuff consistently."
Mr. Simko's immediate assignment is to extract the planning departments from Ogilvy and J. Walter Thompson and integrate them into MindShare, which has $6.5 billion in billings and ranks No. 1 on Ad Age's list of worldwide top media specialists. Mr. Simko has put together a team of seven people to help him organize the move.
"The process is very painful," says Mr. Simko. "First off, account executives, when they start out at an agency, always run down to the media department and talk to the media folks. You can't do that now. Secondly, media departments are always filled with young people, full of energy, working hard. A lot of that energy walks out the door. And third, the media department is one of the only places at agencies that hires kids straight out of college. A lot of people in account work come up through media. That all goes away. As do the billings."
But the benefits outweigh the problems encountered. Mr. Simko points out that consolidating as a specialist media shop gives the agencies the resources to buy the necessary equipment. "Viewer graphics and optimizers depend on having the Nielsen [Media Research] database online. The cost to have that is in the millions. A creative agency will be reluctant to invest in that, whereas a media company must invest in it."
Mr. Simko and his colleagues are writing the book on creating a new media giant. For example, they are developing a master training program for all new employees of the company, not just entry-level ones.
"When it can't be done," says Mr. Gotlieb, "you call Ray, and before you know it, it's been handled. There is never any complaining out of Ray."