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MBPT Spotlight: 10 Questions for Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg

Horizon Media has been on a new business role since the start of the year, winning several new media accounts headed by film and TV studio STX Entertainment which plans to spend $350 million on advertising this year.

Other account wins include CarMax with a media spending budget of $60 million, chocolatier Lindt, which spends about $45 million on advertising annually, and Turner’s $150 million account, which it won last fall but took over officially in January.

Horizon also successfully defended in reviews of its VTech media account and its Telemundo-NBCUniverso account. And those accounts join Horizon’s other clients which include Geico, Capital One, Burger King, United Airlines, Corona and Weight Watchers, among others.

Bill Koenigsberg founded Horizon Media in 1989 and grew it into the media agency it is today with billings around $5 billion, making it the largest independent media agency in the world.  In addition to overseeing the new pitches and account defenses, Horizon CEO Koenigsberg has been busy serving on various industry committees. He is chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies media committee and also serves on the board of the International Radio and Television Society. He is also a member of the City Harvest board of directors. And he was recently named to a special ANA/4A’s Task Force looking into ad fraud.

Media Buyer & Planner Today was able to pull him away from his busy schedule long enough to answer 10 questions about Horizon and some of the issues facing the advertising industry today.

Horizon Media has had a couple of nice account wins recently. How are you able to hold your own as an independent agency vs. the larger media agency holding companies, i.e. what's your secret?

We have been awarded significant business over the last year. I don't believe it is independent vs. holding company. I believe it is a formula of talent, tools, technology, invention and resources and we are excelling in every area. We have the best talent, significant resources in cutting edge tools and tech. We are an agency of invention and I provide the infrastructure for any resource needed across the board. 

You were just named to the ANA/4A's Task Force to look into the agency rebate situation in the wake of Jon Mandel's report that many agencies have been getting "kickbacks" from media companies to place ad dollars with certain agenices. What is the goal of the Task Force?

The goal of the ANA 4A's rebate and transparency task force is to educate each other in the new world we are living in and build back trust in the client agency relationship through developing a template of best practices.

You are the first media agency executive to serve as chairman of the 4As. Why do you think it took so long for the media buying and planning side of the business to have one of its own head up the ad agency trade organization?

I am honored to be the first sitting chair from the media side of the 4A's in its 98th year history. Look around you and consumers are living in a world of media consumption that is self-served, so the time is right with all the issues we are dealing with and the complexities in the marketplace, to have a chair that lives and breathes the communication experience from content to activation.

What does the role of 4As chairman involve, how time-consuming has it been, and how have you juggled your duties at Horizon Media to be able to find time for this expanded role?

As chairman of the 4A's I have helped architect the future vision as to where we need to go to and helped to lead the industry on multiple fronts. Due to the complexities of issues from regulation, measurement, transparency, digital fraud and numerous others, the time demand has been greater than anticipated but with the excellent leadership of the 4A's, a great board and my own infrastructure, it is manageable.

You're in the second year of a two-year term as chairman, what is your vision for the 4As moving forward?

One of the drivers of the future vision is an increase in membership, significant scaling of our education and webinars, communicating the value proposition to markets at large about what agencies contribute and leading the new generation of our workforce so that we are a healthy, strong and vibrant industry for the future.

More marketers seem to be pushing for pay-for-performance clauses in their agreements with agencies, how do you feel about that and is that going to eventually become the predominant way agencies are paid in the future?

Payment delays by marketers is only with a select few that have been vocal in their business demands. Agencies have the right to say yes or no. We all work on slim margins so obviously it is not a trend we would like to see continue and not a very motivating offering.

Legislators in Washington are primed to establish a new policy that would place limits on the amount of ad cost deductions, i.e., creating a tax on advertising. The 4As has been active in meeting with the White House and lobbying these legislators. How do you see this situation playing out?

I do not believe we will see advertising become a non-deductible expense. It is an easy target for some politicians, but the result — at the end of the day — if passed, the consumer will end up paying the bill for that and I cannot see Washington moving forward with that type of directive.

Digital ad fraud continues to grow and marketers are losing millions on phony ads that are never seen by consumers. The situation has gotten so bad that even anti-fraud devices don’t seem capable of rectifying the problem. On top of that, more media agencies and their holding companies are bringing programmatic ad buying in-house and starting their own exchanges. Do you see any solution in sight to the ad fraud problem?

The ad fraud problem is being addressed aggressively through a newly formed association called TAG made up of the ANA, 4A's and IAB, with very senior level leadership across the industry. The goal is to clean up a significant amount of fraud and we are on our way, with significant funding, to make it happen.

Coming up with a standardized measurement system for digital advertising is another goal of the industry that still seems far off. What are your thoughts on that?

Consistent digital measurement across all platforms is a journey over time, and yes it is moving a lot slower than we want. I think we are years away, but getting better every day. The other challenge is that the KPI's for measurement are a moving target as well. We are living in a fluid world that is moving rapidly and eventually technology will catch up.

You keep hanging on as the largest independent media agency, quite successfully, but the large agency holding companies are surely knocking at your door trying to buy your agency. How long are you going to hold out and keep operating independently?

It is hard to answer the question on Horizon's independence. Right now I am focused on leading our clients into the new world and building out the most advanced organization in the industry. We are making a difference in our client's businesses and that is very rewarding. I would never say never ... As Forest Gump said, "life is like a box of chocolates" I'm enjoying the chocolates, but you never know when they are going to run out.