Ries graduated from DePauw University in 1950 with a degree in liberal arts and accepted a position with the advertising department of General Electric before founding his own advertising agency in New York City, Ries Cappiello Colwell, in 1963. The agency later changed to a marketing strategy firm, Trout & Ries.
In 1972, again cooperating with Trout, Ries co-authored a three-part series of articles declaring the arrival of the "Positioning Era" in Advertising Age magazine, promoting their concept of positioning.
In 1994, Ries founded Ries & Ries with his daughter Laura a recent graduate of Northwestern University and TBWA advertising account executive.
Ries was selected as one of the most influential people in the field of public relations in the 20th century by PR Week magazine in 1999. Ries has also written a number of books that have made the BusinessWeek best seller list on a number of occasions.