Horizon MediaScrappy independent breaks $1 billion
Horizon Media has hit the big time. The 15-year-old New York agency topped a major milestone in 2004, exceeding $1 billion in annual billings for the first time, making it far and away the largest pure-play independent media shop.
Horizon was born in early 1989 when publisher-broadcaster Media General Inc. sold its broadcast services arm to a group led by the unit's senior management team, which included then-Chief Operating Officer Bill Koenigsberg.
The new company sought to take advantage of what Koenigsberg correctly divined as an emerging trend to unbundle the media side of the advertising business from the creative.
What generated a new realm of opportunity for media-only shops also set off a frantic wave of consolidation as global holding companies rapidly swallowed up the independents.
"What I did not envision was that there would become about 10 media entities that would control most of the market," says Koenigsberg. "There was at one time a tremendous number of independent media companies. Almost all of them are gone today."
As a true independent, Horizon is able to maintain what Koenigsberg calls complete media neutrality. "We don't have a big holding company over us that makes its money by producing 30-second television spots. We can be 100 percent client-centric," he says, adding, "But we grow the way we grow because we are doing a great job for our clients, not because we are an independent agency."
Horizon picked up about 20 new accounts in 2004, including its most recent win, a $50 million media planning assignment from online banking giant ING Direct. Clients include insurance company Geico, NBC Universal Television, Swedish furniture maker Ikea, the interactive game division of Vivendi International, and Jack in the Box restaurants.
The company has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando, Fla., and Amsterdam and plans to open a London office this year.
Autonomy does carry some disadvantages. If Horizon is to continue to grow, Koenigsberg believes the agency must go global. That's proving to be easier said than done. Horizon has made inroads with some blue-chip brands in Europe like Ikea, Converse, Amstel Light, and Foot Locker, but Koenigsberg concedes that building a strong global media group may mean taking a partner.
"It's tough. Whether we are able to pull off all the execution ourselves is still up in the air. In many countries, there is still an advantage to size," he says. Which, of course, leads to the inevitable question of how long Horizon can ply its own road, and whether Koenigsberg will ever sell the agency he has shepherded from obscurity to maturity.
"Certainly, we need to be stronger in Europe and in Asia, but you're not going to pick up the paper and read that I sold the company tomorrow," he says. And beyond that? "Never say never."