He showed me the email and we were both a bit skeptical.
I immediately pinged a friend who had launched her career under the wing of Ms. Horn a decade before. She is now an “entertainment + tech” PR pro living in L.A. and repping some of today’s biggest celebs alongside their startups of interest. Having built her reputation on being an exacting, straight shooter practically incapable of your run-of-the-mill PR bullshit, we knew she would give us an accurate assessment.
“Is she nice?”
“Should we be scared?”
“We know she’s smart but is this a clandestine operation issued by none other than the Public Relations Society of America?”
After being reassured that (despite her tough business exterior) Ms. Horn was known historically as a good listener, extremely intuitive, nice in a particular way that leaves room for good folks and weeds out the bad, and constantly looking for ways to innovate in the PR space, we were sold.
Here is our happy ending: she was better than great, more open than we had expected, and has become an important ally in our quest to build a platform that serves the PR industry in unique and compelling ways.
So Sabrina, ah-hem, Ms. Horn, we thank you…for being a true PR innovator and entrepreneur. Where others could have thrown in the towel you kept pushing, changing, growing, and ultimately building a company that has been a true leader in the technology and PR industries.
Now for the goods…
You’ve built a thriving PR firm over the past twenty years, what are the top three things you believe have enabled your success?
- I listen carefully to what my employees tell me, as I often find out the real crux of an issue by talking to my employees… things get lost in translation. You can’t be a CEO that doesn’t get into the trenches.
- Ask smart questions, especially the question “Why?” People often get excited about things they are passionate about. What may seem “obvious” to them may just not be feasible. Clients think they want X, when what they really need is Y. Our job is to counsel people about their options or give them options when they didn’t have any. The only way to provide that counsel is to dig, get them to tell you more and figure out what the end goal really should be.
- Trust my instincts. If something smells fishy or just doesn’t feel right, you have to trust your gut and follow your instincts.
What makes a client difficult to work with? (Characteristics, expectations, etc.)
SH: Very high expectations based on an uninformed or misinformed view of a situation; fear of losing power resulting in a command and control relationship; anda dysfunctional highly political organization that squashes creativity.
In your opinion, what are the key components to maintaining healthy PR/Client relationships?
SH: I tend to see this as four-pronged:
- Honest and open and frequent communication about what is working and what is not.
- A relationship that is based on trust and professional friendship where each has the others’ back.
- Free and open access to information about the client’s offerings, access to executives.
- Healthy appreciation for the agency model.
What is the biggest misconception about PR?
SH: The biggest misconception about PR is that it is a tactical press machine designed to solely “get ink”. PR is one of the most underrated and powerful tools inside a company and is exceptionally strategic and valuable when given the opportunity and provided by likeminded people.
If you were to guess, what do you think the PR industry will look like in a decade, 2023?
SH: Many functions will continue to be automated (like finding executives to speak at conferences) and many agencies and companies will continue to become their own content creators. However, as long as there are people on this planet, they will have problems communicating with each other and hence there will be the need for a PR function (although it may not be called that) to help bridge that gap.
Any advice for aspiring communications professionals?
SH: Know what you don’t know. Become as well-rounded as you can. Avoid becoming a specialist in one particular function and focus on learning more about the ecosystem and business that your function plays in.
It’s not what you know, and it’s not who you know. It’s how they think and feel that you need to know. Understanding human psychology is a foundation of successful communications. It helps you read people and understand where they are coming from to help you be a more successful communicator.
Follow Sabrina Horn: @sabrinahorn
About HORN: http://www.horngroup.com/
About Sabrina Horn
Sabrina started HORN in 1991 with the vision to build a communications agency that would break new ground in technology markets, employment practices and client service. Today she continues to guide the firm’s evergreen mission and values, overseeing operations, business strategy and development, and providing counsel to clients.
Sabrina has served as a Board Member on the Council of PR Firms (www.prfirms.org), Software Industry Information Association (www.SIIA.org), and is frequent speaker at technology and marketing industry conferences around the country. Sabrina has authored several research papers including “Public Relations for Emerging Growth Technology Companies,” and “Advertising in the People’s Republic of China.” Sabrina has received accolades for Best U.S. Employer, www.workingwoman.com, and has been consistently recognized by PR Week, Holmes Report and Inside PR as one of the PR industry’s most successful entrepreneurs and innovators. She is also on the Advisory Board for the Jordan, Edmiston Group, Inc. (JEGI). Previously, Sabrina worked at Blanc & Otus and Edelman Public Relations, both in San Francisco. She has a MS in Public Relations from Boston University and a BA in American Studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Sabrina enjoys cooking, running, and playing with her two daughters.