I have to be honest we were a little nervous walking into Sabrina Horn’s office at the Horn Group. Sabrina has received so many awards for her leadership and accomplishments, and was inducted into the PR Hall of Fame in 2014, we weren’t sure what to expect. She was one of the very first and few female CEOs in the tech industry when she formed the company in 1991. Long before most of its competitors the Horn Group was in the digital space to provide interactive and social capabilities to complement its PR services to clients, and has been one step ahead of the game to support its clients. Sabrina ushered us into her office and completely put us easy with her warm smile and straightforward advice! Read on for her tips on building brand awareness, communications, and business advice.
How did you start the Horn Group?
I started Horn Group when I was 29 years old, with a rolodex, a directory of reporters in the media and one client, PeopleSoft. I knew that I wanted to try and hang out my own shingle, see if I could make a go of it, and wrote a business plan while on vacation. Then a colleague called me and asked me if I could handle their PR, did a ton of research on their market, and pitched my heart out. By the time I got home there was a message on my answering machine (the technology of the day) that I had won the business. So, I was in business!
Were there many female led agencies when you got going?
I think there were less than a handful – maybe 3 that I can think of.
What gave you the courage and confidence to build your own business?
My parents really gave me the confidence and the inspiration to believe in myself and to control my destiny. As German immigrants and entrepreneurs in their own right, they taught me to never give up on my dreams, to be circumspect and take calculated risks, and so I knew that I had to try… I knew that if I failed I could always get s a job working for someone else at another agency.
How do you find balance as a busy career woman and mother?
It is a daily exercise in juggling, multitasking, planning and resilience. I do the best I can, I’m where I need to be when its important, and I cut myself some slack when I just cant be in two places at the same time. It’s all doable, if you have help, if you plan, and you stop feeling guilty.
What are 3 things that you think have really enabled you to be successful?
What are some communications tips a start up without a budget can implement to build brand awareness?
- Start writing content you can repurpose through multiple channels, as posts on social, in bylined articles, on your website, in press releases… It’s only your time, and can start to give you aircover.
- Build relationships with reporters that cover companies in your space.
- Stay on top of what other companies are doing and find a way to be different (not better) than them. Tell those stories….
What are some important questions to ask when looking for a communications company to work with?
- Who is on my team and how long have they worked there, what is their experience in my particular market sector?
- How do they problem solve and ideate/create new ideas, what is their process for staying on top of what’s going on so they can be proactive vs. reactive?
- Why aside from the revenue, do you want my business?
How has the climate for women entrepreneurs changed since you started your career?
The climate for women entrepreneurs has changed dramatically for the better. It’s still nowhere near perfect and there’s a long way to go but so much better. More jobs, more acceptance, more equal pay, more support and less noise, less patting on the head, and less bs.
What role have mentors played in your career?
I have had several mentors over the years in different areas, some for financial advice, some for emotional support, encouragement, and some for business strategy. It has been incredibly important to have access to these people.
How important is it to you to give of your time and help foster other women entrepreneur’s careers?
It’s really critical and I feel that I’m able to do so effectively. Sometimes, its just being able to listen and share an experience. Sometimes, I have an idea or a past experience I can share that can help a woman (or really anyone) get through a tough situation. I make time for it whenever I can.
How has social media changed your business? Is there still a place for straightforward PR?
Absolutely… PR will never go away, it’s constantly evolving and changing. Social just gives us more channels to get the word out for our clients and is embedded in every communications plan we deliver.
Do you see influencer-marketing pushing into the PR space or is it more of compliment to the industry?
Yes – influencers as an audience are usually a part of our communications programs, and therefore influencer marketing is tangential to that.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? And the worst?
Best: Never assume anything. Always ask questions and trust your instincts.
Worst: You don’t need to come to this meeting, we’ve got it handled.
What has been a ‘pinch me’ moment in your career?
The day I started Horn Group and won our first client.
And the day I sold the company.
How do you feel your children perceive your work and career?
I think they are proud of their mom. They probably wish I didn’t have to work quite so much, and wasn’t distracted oftentimes, but I think they see that it can be done and that its there for them too if they stay committed and focused.
You recently partnered with Finn Partners, congratulations! Can you tell how that will change your business?
It will broaden our scope in terms of what we can offer and programs we can pitch on a global scale. It’s a very exciting time for us and they are a world class agency. It’s a great match.
If you could say something to your 20 year old self, what would it be? To your 30 year old self?
Never give up on your dreams.
You can do it if you really want to.
Don’t forget to say please and thank you.
Its not over till the check clears the bank.
Learn not to take things personally.
Stay in the moment, no matter what is falling around you.
Ask more questions than you think.
It will be hard and might even suck from time to time, but you were made for this and it’s your calling.
For more information about Finn Partners click here.