Ned Barrett

Meet Ned.

I am the president of a digital marketing agency called Grey Matter Direct (, which is located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. We blend the best aspects of highly creative advertising and state-of-the-art online and social marketing techniques with advanced analytics. We deliver both the “sizzle and the steak” to clients who want to be on the cutting edge but who also need to make money and grow their brands.

We are very proud of some of the “firsts” we have been responsible for including building the first e-commerce store for the world’s largest toy company, Hasbro Toys, and for creating the first store-level digital marketing tool for FTD Florists.

And now, the 12 Questions

1. What kind of kid were you?

I think that the one word that could best describe my childhood would be “feral”. We grew up on Valley Forge Mountain, which is right behind Valley Forge Park. It is an area that is surrounded by suburbs like Wayne and Phoenixville but seems worlds away. With acres of woods to play in and little to no supervision, we ran around like wild animals. We would get hurt but nothing a trip to the emergency room couldn’t fix.

Then we moved to Chicago and I went to the high school that was the basis for movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles. It a culture shock, but it turned out to be a lot of fun!

2. What influences have shaped you?

I am huge history fan. When you really dig into the past it quickly becomes evident that everything we encounter in our daily lives or in business has happened many times before. By studying the way that the great people of history have faced the challenges that confronted them, I haven’t always succeeded, but I am usually able to pick a path that has a good chance for a positive outcome.

Two aphorisms that I like a lot are – “There is nothing new under the sun”, which is from Ecclesiastes. I think this is just as true today as it was 5,000 years ago and will be true in the future. No matter what technology or societal changes may bring us, human needs and desires and motivations remain basically the same.

The other one, from Helmuth von Moltke, is that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Even the most thoughtful business plan will need to adapt and change as soon as it is enacted. Those who are not flexible and dynamic are doomed to failure.

3. Ever done anything really dumb?

Not so much as an adult, but when I was younger I did a lot of unbelievably stupid things. I was lucky that I never hurt anyone else or myself, but it could easily have been otherwise.

What I tell my children is that they should try to never do things where the consequences can’t be undone. For instance, one should never drive under the influence. If you kill someone else driving while intoxicated, you will have taken away their life, and it will be something that haunts you for the rest of yours.

If you can limit yourself to mistakes that can be corrected and turned into learning experiences, you are doing pretty well in life.

4. How’d you learn to do what you do?

Originally, I intended to become a lawyer but my father, who was a pioneer in direct response newspaper inserts and direct mail, asked me to look at the Integrated Marketing & Communications program at Northwestern. This was at the early stages of the development of the internet and it intrigued me enough that I decided to enter this program. It was a life changing decision which launched me into a career of direct to consumer marketing and e-business.

5. What are you working on now?

Our newest client is the Guarantee Trust Life Insurance company in Chicago. We just launched a new site for them ( that offers juvenile term life products.

The insurance space is highly competitive and requires a complex blend of creative and marketing approaches using all available online channels. It is also a business that requires our deep knowledge of customer lifetime value and advanced analytics. It’s the kind of project that we love!

6. Walk us through a typical day at work.

Almost everyday I am performing a complex dance of planning, managing, educating and doing.

In terms of planning, we are often the entire marketing department for our clients. They set the overall plan and sales objectives and then we create the specific tactical plan to deliver on their goals.

As you can imagine, much of my day is spent managing our team and the working with our clients. Part of managing involves educating our staff. I am a firm believer in continuous learning and continuous development and I emphasize this with our staff. In every position, I want our team to keep learning and growing. In today’s intensely complex and competitive marketing environment, if you’re not ahead of the curve you are falling behind.

Finally, I always dedicate an hour or so a day to learn new marketing technique or technical skill. I firmly believe that organizational leaders need to be able to do as well as lead.

7. Who do you love?

I love my family above all else.

8. What are you passionate about?

I am deeply passionate about endangered species. I would love to be able to be involved with saving the Rhino or preserving a big chunk of the Amazon. Instead I have been thinking smaller.

A few years ago, I joined a group called the Goodied Working Group (, whose goal is to preserve a group of small, live bearing fish species called Goodieds. Most of these species originate in Mexico and are either extremely endangered or are extinct in the wild. The members of the group raise these fish with the hope of returning them to the wild in Mexico someday.

Very few people know or care about these fish. To the average eye they are boring little gray fish that have little appeal. The members of our group think differently. For some of these species there are less than 30 hobbyists in the world who are maintaining them. Rare doesn’t even come close to describing these fish.

Anyway, this is my way of helping to save something of value for future generations and to keep an endangered part of our natural world alive while mankind figures out how to be better stewards of our planet.

9. What are you proudest of?

My family, of course. But in terms of my professional life, it was our role as the creator of Hasbro Toys first e-commerce store (

We collaborated with a team of incredible people at Hasbro to build their first native e-commerce store along with the entire logistics and warehousing operation, database, analytics platform, e-mail marketing system, online advertising program – everything!

It has been a few years since we created it but the Hasbro Toy Store is still the most fun, exciting and rewarding business build I have been a part of.

10. Describe a great night out.

Dinner in Philly, alone with my wife or with some friends.

11. So what’s next for you?

Just working and continuing to grow our agency.

12. What will your epitaph say?

Won’t have a grave for an actual epitaph. I want to be cremated and just be gone in a blaze. But that is just my physical self.

In terms of an epitaph, I have always loved this final piece from Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country For Old Men”:

(In my dream, my dead father and I were) both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night. Goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin’. Never said nothin’ goin’ by. He just rode on past… and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. ‘Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up…

Like the rest of us, I have no idea what waits for us after this life. But I think there is something more, and I want those I love to know that, after I die, I’ll be waiting there for them when their time comes.

PCG Staff
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