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Talking to Bill Koenigsberg: Horizon Media Keeps on Growing, But How Long Will It Remain Independent?

Bill Koenigsberg founded Horizon Media in 1989 and today it is the largest independent media agency in the world, with client billings at about $3.4 billion. Koenigsberg has refused myriad offers to become part of large media agency holding companies and the last few years have seen his company grow its business enormously, winning major accounts over larger rivals, while still retaining several long-time clients. The Horizon president and CEO addresses all this and more in a wide-ranging chat.

In 2011, Horizon brought in clients whose ad spending is more than $1 billion, pushing your overall client billings to around $3.4 billion. As a smaller independent agency, how have you been able to compete with the larger ones?
We're not so small anymore. Right now, among U.S. media agencies, we are ranked sixth in billings among the Top 14 agencies.

How did all this growth take place?
I know it sounds cliché, but we are in the talent business. Clients are looking for leadership at every level of an agency. And talent is running to Horizon, not away from it. As an independent agency, we can provide employees and environment that is clearer. We can be focused on a longer-term view as an agency and what direction we are going in. We are not impacted by Wall Street expectations and monitoring. We have made significant investment in consumer insights, social practices, digital and proprietary tools. Unlike many agencies within holding companies, we are fully integrated under one roof. There are not separate companies under a holding company umbrella that perform different functions. It is easier for our clients to work with. It's about being smarter, not bigger.

You started out as a tiny independent but along the way have kept some clients for the long-term. To what do you attribute your ability to keep those clients over the years from shifting to larger agencies?
We have had Geico as a client for 19 years, A&E Television Networks for 18 years, Mutual of Omaha for 16 years, Ace Hardware for 14 years. We attribute that to being able to stay fresh and coming up with new ways to do business and never taking our relationships with our clients for granted.

You've also been adding staff at Horizon.
We are up to 700 employees now, and 100 of those have been added over the past four months. We are fueling our revenue growth with new talent. We have had some significant new business wins over the past year and those accounts need to be serviced. We moved into our new 200,000 square foot offices with a totally new environment and we are still building additional space, including a 7,500 square-foot wellness center for our employees that will be ready in April. It will include a gym as well as a yoga studio and game room. We believe in a balance of work and play.

You have over the years gotten offers to sell the agency and surely the offers keep coming. How long will Horizon remain independent?
I have an enormous amount of respect for my holding company competitors. If a point in time comes that I feel I cannot continue to grow the agency in certain areas like I would like to do on my own, and if the stars aligned the right way, I would consider it. Right now, global growth and reach is becoming more important to me. We started Columbus Media International, our independent global media services partnership, and Columbus recently picked up three new global accounts. The question is, do I continuing strengthening the global business through Columbus? If I do decide to sell, the company I would sell to would have to have the same vision about the future as I do-and would have to work with me to help define the future direction of the company.