Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Sabrina Horn: Celebrating 15 years of the Horn Group

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 22, 2006


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I recently interviewed Sabrina Horn, the head of the Horn Group, one of Silicon Valley's largest independent PR companies. The Horn Group this month is celebrating fifteen years in business and Ms Horn has seen many of Silicon Valley's business cycles.

Over the past three years she has been working from the company's Manhattan office. She has returned to the East coast where she was raised. She has two young girls, five years and eight years old.

Ms Horn spent 20 years on the West Coast but she says that after the dotcom bubble burst she wanted to "get back to my roots, I needed a new challenge, even though managing a company through the downturn has been very challenging."

I asked her about some of the cultural differences between the East and West coasts. "East coast has more of an attitude of being no nonsense, direct, get the job done. But the Web 2.0 companies out here are very much like their counterparts in Silicon Valley, they have very similar cultures and you wouldn't be able to distinguish the from each other."

One of her goals was to diversify the company away from enterprise software and towards other industries and services. For example, in New York she created a business group that helps companies with web site design, and related services. Now that group brings in about 25 per cent of total revenues and she expects it to bring in 50 per cent within five years.

This is all part of a future for PR/communications that helps companies get their stories out and also publish them. "The Internet is such a visual medium that it makes sense to help companies improve their online presence."

Ms Horn is very much aware of the power of blogging and the new media/social communications technologies that are pouring out of Silicon Valley. Podcasts, vidcasts, new media oriented press releases, and the many different ways companies can communicate are readily apparent from her vantage point. But she admits that it is often difficult to convince clients on best strategy and good practices because they are often stuck in the old way of doing things.

She also recognizes that for PR companies to be more effective at what they do, they have to be recognized as strategic consultants and important partners, rather than subservient to the whims of the current marketing director.

[I've always considered it strange and unhealthy that marketing departments run the communications. Corporate comms should have it's own seat in the C-level suite. That's true in very few companies. There should be a chief Conversations/Cultural Officer or something like that because businesses exist in a society and they need to have the appropriate understanding of the conversations, the culture of that society. That's why SVW reports on the business and culture of Silicon Valley.]

Ms Horn also understands that in today's world PR firms have lost their ability to control the message, and that's a very important realization. Because it means readjusting and accepting the fact that we live in a very different media world today.

[For example, I tell companies that they cannot control their message because the world will tag/label them in anyway it wants, and in all sorts of ways. The new control comes from having the discipline to repeat a message a hundred times and more, making sure that everyone in an organisation understands and articulates a consistent message, time and again. (You'd be surprised at how rare this is!)]

Remaining an independent PR firm is tough in today's world where clients want global reach and representation. But it could be argued that smaller, independent PR companies provide more value, attention and can leverage existing partnerships in other regions to provide comparable services to the mega-agencies.

Ms Horn says that she receives offers to buy her company on a regular basis but she says she is having too much fun to take those offers seriously. "If you are passionate and involved in something, you cannot just walk away from it. I love coming to work everyday," she says.

She shared with me three rules she has learned from running her business:
-The day you think you know it all is the day you need to quit the job.

-There is always far more that you don't know you didn't know.

-Always make sure that the check clears the bank.

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