Interview with Bill Koenigsberg On Building Horizon Media
Mins Read
June 25, 2021

Several years ago, CatapultX CEO, Zack Rosenberg and Rachel Herskovitz had the pleasure and opportunity of interviewing Bill Koenigsberg, Founder and CEO of Horizon Media, the largest independent media agency in the US. His answers still ring true on the topic of running a business in the media world, even more so as Horizon Media has grown and expanded over the past few years to include a new agency, Big, responsible for data and analytics.

At 32, Mr. Koenigsberg bet on the fact that creative agencies would not control all aspects of marketing. In 1984, he bought the media department he was employed by at the time, which became the Horizon Media we know today. Currently, Horizon has over 1000 employees, estimated $8.1 billion in billings*, and collaborates with clients such as Corona, GEICO, and more.

Building a business is tiring, when did you feel like you could sleep at night?

I sleep at night knowing I shouldn't. I take comfort in the fact that I take nothing for granted. I take comfort that I have to reinvent myself; I take comfort in the fact that I have instilled leadership principles in my organization that I hope will keep the company out of trouble and grow. But, I constantly worry about those things, which is what does make me toss and turn. If I were to answer this question and say I could sleep at night, that wouldn’t make sense. I don’t see how you can run a company of this size and all of the moving parts, and the complexity of the industry, without thinking about all of it. However, it’s the fact that I am aware of this that allows me to relax - it’s important for me to know what I don’t know.

What is your one wish for your company?

The wish would be to attract the best and the brightest in the world to our industry and we’re not doing that. We’re still losing people to finance, technology, and legal because our salary levels are pretty poor. And that is causing a talent drain. What we are doing to combat this is something called the “Propel” program, which is for entry level, up and coming talent. They commit to Horizon media for two years and the group will rotate across eight different areas of the organization. The theory is that after the two years they will have a much better picture of the company and be worth more to both the company and themselves.

Why do you think Horizon has been able to thrive against the competition?

The company mantra is that “business is personal”, which means that we aim to foster a fun, collaborative environment - for our clients that means that we want to make them feel like they’re new every day, and for our employees , demonstrates that we have a vested interest in their career and future. With one of the lowest employee churn rates in the industry (12%), my belief is that stability at the top creates stability at the bottom. When compared to other media agencies, who have seen significant leadership changes in the past few years, our vision has been able to be set and carried out. If people like me (94% do according to GlassDoor), they know I will be here for awhile. It’s provided me with a rearview mirror into all the challenges I have already faced with the company. While the competition might be dealing with an issue for the first time, I likely have already faced something and dealt with it. And lastly, we’re able to pivot and make decisions quickly without the bureaucracy that some of our competitors face.

Why is communications planning the most important part of the industry?

Communications planning strategy should be leading the marketing eco-system today because it all starts with the consumer - and combines it with data. The Holy Grail is understanding the depth, breadth, and emotional triggers of consumer purchase behavior, and then where to engage them. A media company today is better equipped to determine these areas. First, we identify what the business challenges are. Then we size the pond - the potential consumer audience and determine the best channels to reach them in. We can use technology and insights to amplify these messages through social currency, and then use our analytics to determine if we reached the right “pond”.

Has Horizon Media exceeded your expectation?

At 32 when I started the company, my only expectation was to just keep going. But I had a vision that had media agencies holding the turf, not the creative agencies which did at the time. But, I never dreamed we’d be this big. I have four tenants that I focus on: making my clients feel new, nurturing my assets (people), investing back into the business, and improving business. I don’t feel like we’ve arrived, and my work does not feel done. I know that if I stand still we will get run over - so I aim to run faster and jump higher than our competition.

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