Sometimes business success comes from imagination, inspiration or luck. Sometimes it is all three, and Surbiton-born Daniel Robey certainly has a hefty measure of each.
He is the founder and chief executive of Think Jam, an entertainment and marketing business which he set up in 2004. It has now attracted the attention of heavyweight entrepreneur Sir Lloyd Dorfman, founder of the Travelex Group. Sir Lloyd and his son Charles, who is CEO of Dorfman Media Holdings, have made a multi-million investment in Think Jam, as a result of which Robey’s agency is expected to double in size and reach.
Robey, cheerful and bouncy and in his early 40s, freely admits his father, a shopkeeper and market trader who sold shoes in Wembley Market, never understood what his son did for a living. Robey Jnr had an early interest in creative arts and, though he claims he was not particularly academic, secured a place at Manchester Metropolitan University on the then brand-new interactive multi-media course, the first of its kind in the country.
“No one had heard of my course, no one knew what I did.” And at the end of his first year he was taken aside by his professor who advised him that he might consider not returning for a second year because of “over-socialising” in Manchester. The advice had the opposite effect. Robey knuckled down and in 1997 achieved a first-class degree. “It gave me a nudge — and all through my career and life, little nudges spurred me on,”he says.
Not that Robey seems to have needed many nudges. He says he has “grafted” since he was 10, accompanying his father to the markets, working all through university to support himself, then beginning his career with an agency called Empire Design, a print company specialising in film posters.
Robey’s first job at Empire was to design CD-Roms, which he says “were about to become cool marketing collateral for films”. These, frequently given away with weekend newspapers or magazines, contained trailers for hot films and might include extra features such as interviews with the cast and crew, or mini-films devoted to “the making of” the main event. Robey and his young team designed the CD-Roms, programmed and developed them.
Eventually, he started meeting the clients, networking and expanding the business. But almost in tandem the technology was changing and a new area developed of websites to accompany film releases, with so-called “Easter eggs” — hidden surprises — for the consumer on the sites.
As the technology changed and Robey’s understanding of the business opportunities in the entertainment world changed too, his time at Empire came to an end.
In 2004, Empire’s management decided to drop the digital division which Robey
had helped to create, and he was made redundant. He saw it as an opportunity, and thus launched his own company, Think Jam, which was the first digital-only entertainment agency in Britain.
Since 2004, Think Jam has gradually built up a reputation for digital solutions to almost every type of entertainment — from films to games, from theatre to TV, from book publicity to management of social media content. Now, with the Dorfman investment at hand, Robey is looking at sports promotion and marketing. “It’s a seismic change for us”, he says. “It will enable us to be much bolder, more confident in what we do”.
To date, Robey’s company has worked on more than 3,000 films in the past 15 years, including the Greatest Showman, Wonder Woman and Mission Impossible. The client base features such heavy hitters as 20th Century Fox, the Stanley Kubrick Estate, Lionsgate and Entertainment One.
Robey is clearly thrilled at the new partnership with the Dorfmans — Sir Lloyd is a long-time mentor and adviser — and notes that “with the consolidation of studios such as the Fox-Disney merger and acquisitions such as the AT&T/Time Warner deal, there has been a big change in the media buying landscape, which needs to be addressed”.
Away from work, Robey, a passionate cyclist, has poured his energies into supporting and managing the annual fund-raising bike ride for Langdon, the charity for Jewish people with learning disabilities.
And there remains the question of that rather odd name for the company that he has set up. He smiles ruefully. “I had a cousin called Jemma who died of cancer when she was 18,” he says.
Robey was in his late 20s at the time and very close to her; he was still at Empire but vowed that if he ever managed to have his own company, he would remember Jemma in the name that he gave it.
He decided he would use three letters from his cousin’s name, “J”, “A” and “M”, but then found he couldn’t register “Jam” by itself as a company title.
Pondering the problem with friends and colleagues, he decided that a creative agency should have the word “think” in its name, and thus Think Jam was born.
For Daniel Robey, his company’s title is both a private and public way of memorialising a beloved family member.