Visit Horizon Communication Group’s website and you are left in no doubt that this is a public relations firm with a distinct point of view. There are challenging articles on evaluation, on crisis communications, on eco-fatigue; on “churnalism” (the journalistic practice of simply cutting and pasting press releases as a substitute for original content). Ask the firm what makes it different from its competition—an answer surprisingly few PR firms can answer with any clarity—and you hear a strong point of view about both the business and practice of PR: the firm doesn’t work on retainer, because it believes retainers detract from a focus on outcomes; it eschews advertising equivalency as a measure of success, preferring to focus on message penetration and business results; it offers a wide range of proprietary approaches, including messaging workshops and a “10D thinking workshop” focused on internal communication.
Based in Sydney, with a network of associates throughout Australia and expertise that spans South East Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Horizon has experience in public relations, media relations, stakeholder communications, risk and reputation management, and special events, but focuses on three key areas: best practice in the retail sector; social change (including corporate social responsibility); and lifestyle public relations. It works in partnership with its clients—preferring to manage programs that are owned by senior management, often the CEO—to build trust, transparency, knowledge and accountability.
The leadership team includes founder and chair Liz McLaughlin, a past national president of the Public Relations Institute of Australia with more than 17 years in the PR industry, counseling on brand and reputation management, employee communication and issues management; managing director Justin Flaherty, who joined the firm 11 years ago; and associate directors Ben Findlay, promoted to that role last year, and Tara Poole, who joined the firm in 2007 after running her own business.
Taking proactive steps to prepare for the impending financial crisis, Horizon spent 2008 refining its corporate service offering; further developing its government relations capabilities to help clients forge relationships with the new Rudd government; and expanding its digital and web 2.0 capabilities. It also introduced a new “Clever Breakfast Series,” providing a CEO-level forum for clients to discuss current challenges and access strategic thinking on critical issues from external speakers.
There was new business from Tourism Australia, A1 Grand Prix, Chef’s Toolbox, the International College of Management in Sydney, New Zealand Natural, Flash Photobition, Cartridge World, and the Catchment Management Authorities of New South Wales, while the firm continues to work for major clients including Gloria Jean’s Coffees, Hilton Sydney, New Caledonia Tourism, Commonwealth Bank, AusAID (Australia’s Overseas Aid Agency), Lexus and Grant Thornton. Interesting assignments included developing a multi-channel financial literacy campaign championed by Commonwealth Bank CEO Ralph Norris; providing corporate communications support for three major Tourism Australia initiatives including the National Landscapes launch, a sustainable tourism program and the Australian Tourism Exchange; and undertaking an extensive communication audit as a prelude to developing a comprehensive strategy to build collective state-wide awareness of 13 separate organizations under the Catchment Management Authorities of New South Wales umbrella. The firm’s work was rewarded with an IPRA Golden World Award for best product launch for its work on Hilton Sydney and a New South Wales Public Relations Institute Association Golden Target Award for its pro bono communication support for the Australian Childhood Foundation.
“Horizon remains one of our longest standing partners and has been integral to building our brand not only in