Agency A-List 2010

Horizon Media Is Ad Age's Media Agency of the Year

Indie Started the Year Off Right With Google's First Bowl Ad, Spiking Revenue and Beating Big Rivals

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It was January of last year, with three weeks to go before the 2010 Super Bowl, when Bill Koenigsberg got a phone call. On the other end of the line was one very big company seeking time in the big game at the 11th hour. An image floated into the Horizon Media CEO's mind: a mountain, and him trying to move it.

CAVEMEN MEET THE WEB: Horizon has greatly expanded Geico's online presence.
CAVEMEN MEET THE WEB: Horizon has greatly expanded Geico's online presence.
Nevertheless, Mr. Koenigsberg and his team of media-buying and planning strategists went to work. And the result was Google's first Super Bowl ad, "Parisian Love," which aired midway through the game's third quarter.

To help goose interest in the spot, Google's generally tight-lipped former CEO Eric Schmidt fired off a note from his personal Twitter feed, hinting to all to watch the Super Bowl, adding "Hell has indeed frozen over." Google's spot was a fan favorite of the 110 million viewers of the game last February, many of them returning to watch it again and again on YouTube, where the official upload has almost 6 million views.

"Not only is it equivalent to moving mountains but what made it more challenging was that we were very particular as to where we wanted to be," Mr. Koenigsberg said. "There were many moments of uncertainty but through a really smart bunch of people at Google, CBS and here working on it, we got it done."

It certainly wasn't the only thing Horizon got done last year.

Revenue was up 27% and billings up more than 30% to $2.6 billion. The indie agency regularly beat its bigger rivals in pitches, picking up more than $600 million in new business in 2010 alone and bringing aboard clients such as Google, Weight Watchers and Quiznos. It launched new offerings in analytics and sports and entertainment. And it hung onto several long-term relationships.

"They are passionate about our business," said Mark Stewart, VP-global media at Kraft, which acquired longtime Horizon client Cadbury last year. "They manage to get upstream in the planning process and representing media, not just a distribution outlet for our messages, but in terms of a strategic resource that can help shape our brands and brand experiences for our consumers."

Spend some time at Horizon and you'll likely hear a mantra ingrained in staffers about making all Horizon clients feel like new clients -- no matter how long they have been with the agency. That approach has paid off with marketers such as NBC Universal, who has worked with Horizon for 20-plus years, and Geico, who has been with Horizon for more than 17 years.

"You have to constantly reinvent yourself and come up with new creative thinking and ways to go to market for the client," Mr. Koenigsberg said. "Geico wants efficient buying and effective leadership in terms of being able to read the marketplace. And it wants first-to-market ideas from us."

In 2010 Horizon integrated the famous Geico Gecko into a number of popular YouTube videos generating more than five million impressions. The agency further expanded Geico's presence online by securing first rights over specific content verticals on video sites such as Hulu. Horizon has helped transform Geico to a major TV advertiser and now a significant web marketer.

"Horizon is a lean, mean fighting machine," said Ted Ward, CMO at Geico. "Being an independent allows them to travel without some of the baggage of the media conglomerates, and we get significant individual attention. They were critical to our ramping up from a very small TV advertiser to being a significant entity, and they excel in buying national media down to integrations."

Mr. Koenigsberg credits a lot of the shop's success in 2010 to a slight adjustment it made in its approach.

"We always had the right ingredients but we had to figure out the right recipe to lead the industry from a strategic, trading, insight and creative innovation standpoint," he said. "Over the last few years we worked really hard to find the right recipe. If you figure out the emotional triggers to receptivity of media consumption and what triggers product purchases and then marry the two, you're getting much closer to the Holy Grail. And we honed those skills over the past few years."

Donnie Williams, chief digital officer at Horizon, said a key piece of that recipe is responding as quickly as possible to opportunities in the marketplace. "Being able to identify opportunities that are ripe for the organization and clients are huge and being able to react quickly is even bigger," Mr. Williams said.

Horizon, which recently relocated its Manhattan headquarters to three floors of a massive 150,000 square foot space downtown, now has 600 employees in four U.S. offices. The agency also has one office in Amsterdam and aims to expand globally in 2011, with an eye on Asia.

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