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AdweekMedia's Agency of the Year 2010

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HORIZON MEDIA

Endless Horizons

An aggressive expansion turns a media agency into a media player

By Steve McClellan

The media buying business is in many ways the antithesis of the personality-driven ad agency business—sometimes seen as a back-office, procurement function run by anonymous bureaucrats. And then there is Bill Koenigsberg—so ebullient, voluble, cocky and charismatic that he seems to be steering his company, Horizon, the largest independent media agency, out of the media buying business. Indeed, he is creating something that starts to feel like a hybrid of media buying and media making.   

His new initiatives to this end have included a sports marketing operation and a division that helps clients dispose of underperformance assets in exchange for advertising. Up next: a new joint venture with as-yet named partners that will focus solely on helping clients to devise new ad placement techniques in traditional and emerging media.

The last big indie standing has had a very good year. At a time when other media shops have been forced to scale back, total client billings for Horizon, Koenigsberg’s 21-year-old shop, are up 30 percent to $2.6 billion—more than twice the amount of any other independent media agency. And the shop won a handful of marquee accounts including Dish TV, Corona and Weight Watchers. The CEO, in fact, is feeling confident—so much so that he’s making a series of radical moves into diverse arenas like sports talent representation and event marketing.

His goal is to continue doing more of what he’s been doing: grabbing market share from the holding company agencies. Koenigsberg’s success has fueled endless speculation that he’ll sell the company, speculation he doesn’t dismiss while hedging on the timing.

“Someday but I can’t tell you if that someday is next year or 10 years from now. Right now I’m trying to understand where the media world is going to be a month from now and a month after that,” he says.

With marketers pressuring media agencies for cheaper rates, said one search consultant, the company was shrewd to offer additional services “so it doesn’t get squeezed on compensation.”

Koenigsberg, a one-time collegiate tennis player, founded the agency in 1989. He has invested roughly $50 million over the past two years, launching new services, adding staff and strengthening existing operations such as digital—where it added social media, search and customer relationship marketing expertise—and research, where it expanded its consumer insights group. The shop also is moving into a 150,000-square-foot space in downtown Manhattan that will consolidate its four offices around the city.

Koenigsberg’s decision to reinvest and build had much to do with the agency’s revenue growth. In 2009, when the recession was raging, Horizon increased revenue by 5 percent. This year, it’s up 27 percent to $135 million, according to sources. (Koenigsberg won’t confirm the company’s numbers.)

Of the several new units launched this year, the dive into sports—still in its planning stages—seems, on the surface, the most surprising. For a company whose clients include major sports advertisers (for instance, Geico, which along with NBC has been a client for over two decades, and Corona), it’s actually a calculated land grab. Horizon plans to represent talent, acquire the media and marketing rights to various sporting events, and assist clients with their sponsorship and marketing efforts.

Heading the unit is recruit Michael Neuman, a sports marketing veteran who pops up regularly on TV and sports Web sites. In 2006 he founded Amplify Sports Marketing and Entertainment, which consults for companies including Absolut Vodka and Nikon, and reps properties such as the U.S. Open.

Up and running is Horizon’s event marketing operation, which helps clients develop and implement programs such as conferences, Webinars and trade shows, and a new trading operation designed to help clients dispose of underperforming assets in exchange for ad time. Koenigsberg notes that things like conferences are “billboards for the company.”

Early next year, in league with several undisclosed partners, Horizon will launch a joint venture focusing on new and innovative uses of media (think eBooks and small video players in print magazines).

Jim Sabia, evp marketing at Corona parent Crown Imports, says it’s even more critical for a
challenger brand like Corona to have an innovative media agency. For example, the Gruden on the Bus Corona Light integration on ESPN’s NFL pregame show on Monday nights, says Sabia, has upped brand awareness and received excellent feedback from distributors and retailers nationwide.

Search consultant Russel Wohlwerth, a principle in Ark Advisors, credits Koenigsberg’s innovative attitude with keeping the shop hot. “It proves,” he says, “that you don’t need $20 billion in billings to be a success.”

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