2023 Executive of the Year: Bill Koenigsberg

Bill Koenigsberg is feeling restless. And it’s not just because Horizon Media has suffered its worst string of client losses since he founded the media agency more than three decades ago: more than $1 billion, including its marquee account, GEICO.

Koenigsberg is anxious because the fundamentals of the industry have changed in such a way that it is contributing more client churn than normal.

“The same reason we’re winning business from some of our competitors is the same reason some of our clients are looking,” Koenigsberg explained, adding: “It’s a very restless time right now.”

The truth is, Horizon picked up some pretty big wins during 2023 -- the NFL’s global media account, Sam’s Club, FanDuel, Revlon, AMC Networks, etc. -- and net/net, including sizable retentions like Safelite, Redfin and Atlantis Paradise Island, the agency will not be as under water as many observers might think it was in 2023.

According to estimates from media-billings researcher COMvergence, Horizon won nearly $1 billion in new business, retained a quarter billion dollars in billings from other clients that conducted reviews, and its net loss of media billings for the year was projected to be $685 million.

Even so, it was a surprising move in the wrong direction for Koenigsberg, who has built Horizon into the biggest and longest-running independent media-services agency in America.

And even though he estimates Horizon’s revenues still grew in 2023, the real reason he is feeling so restless is because the nature of the business has changed, and he is realizing that it might be time for the nature of his business to change along with it.

“The days of a client calling up and saying, ‘Hey, I want to move my business to you’ are over,” Koenigsberg says almost wistfully, adding: “Now its a long, arduous process and everybody is involved. The CTO, procurement. Everybody. That’s why reviews are taking so long. It’s not as fun as it used to be."

But Koenigsberg’s unease runs deeper than cyclical economics, because he has weathered economic storms before, and if anything, he is in a strong cash position after selling a minority stake of his privately held business to Singapore-based investment firm Temasek at year-end 2021, and it has been helping him fuel internal growth, including a slew of homegrown services in retail/ecommerce (Night Market), data/analytics (blu), and even pure-play creative services (305 Worldwide).

The deal also put a hold on one of Madison Avenue’s favorite side bets -- when Koenigsberg would sell the world’s largest independent media-services agency to one of the big holding companies -- and if anything, signals that he might be more of a suitor than an acquisition target.

All that is racing around in Koenigsberg’s mind as he begins thinking about the more serious and underlying changes taking place within the media-services industry, as well as the advertising and marketing industry at large: that the fundamentals have changed -- and that might require new leadership if Horizon is going to fulfill his long-term vision of making it the diversified, global services powerhouse he dreams it will one day be.

So don’t be surprised if you hear that Koenigsberg has quietly begun talking to some high-profile industry figures to become CEO -- the kind of candidates who have strong C-suite connections, and could ultimately run the kind of big, publicly traded holding companies that Koenigsberg wants to compete with on a parity scale.

It’s not something he’s talking about publicly -- yet -- and he’s certainly not looking to settle back anytime soon.

He even joked about that while receiving the Reisenbach Foundation’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” late last year, noting, the honor was something to think about.

“It has an interesting ring to it, because my lifetime certainly isn’t over and I honestly believe I have a ton more to achieve.”

Then he went on to disclose something that many of the attendees, as well as others in the industry, might be surprised to have learned: “Believe it or not, it’s been a journey without a destination,” he said, adding: “What I mean by that is the secret to life for me is the mystery of where the different roads lead you during life. And not to have a destination.

“And rather than set my sights on a destination, I set my sights on a vision. And that vision for me was a simple one: to surround myself with great people and to help build great people. And the rest would really fall in place.”

Exactly who, when, where and why Koenigsberg surrounds himself with another great person to help fulfill that vision may be one of the biggest stories of this year -- or maybe next.

In the meantime, MediaPost has selected him as our industry executive of the year for his irrepressible sense of restlessness, his insatiable entrepreneurial spirit, and for knowing when the time is right to transition to something -- or someone -- else.

“I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a builder,” Koenigsberg acknowledges.

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