Horizon Media remembers Serena Duff

Colleagues shared their memories of the West Coast office head with Campaign US.

On Monday, Horizon Media shared that long-time head of its West Coast office, Serena Duff, passed away on February 26 at age 54, after a battle with colon cancer.  

Duff joined Horizon in 2009, where she served as EVP, general manager of the Western Region, managing over 300 people. Prior to joining, she served as senior VP of communications planning at UM. 

Serena was recognized for numerous accolades throughout her career, including being named Adweek’s Media All-Star in 2016, an Ad Relief honoree in 2017, and recognition from ThinkLA Board, of which she was co-president in 2019 and 2020.

Serena is survived by her husband and two young children, who have asked people to donate to City of Hope in her honor. Horizon Media has brought in a grief counselor for employees to cope with her passing. 

Campaign US spoke to her team, who shared the following memories:  

Bill Koenigsberg, CEO & Founder

When I hired Serena to run the West Coast office, I didn't want to use this cliché, but she had me at ‘hello.’ Her poise, her presence, her light, her spirit, her energy — she had this amazing amount of energy that was infectious. She made me a better CEO by looking at things differently and asking me to look at things differently. Her status reports to me were postcards from LA, which were very different and unique and made her stand out a little bit more. 

In her first week on the job, we had a major pitch in Chicago. We threw her into the deep end of the pool, leading this pitch for a huge piece of business, and I watched this lady that had just joined us dazzle this client, and we won the pitch. She must have been so nervous. A dozen years later we still have that client, and that's a testament to her relationships and her [ability to] make clients feel like new clients every day. 

She had this rare [mix] of fun and light leadership and [an] incredibly hard work ethic. I don't know how she did it with managing her family and her kids, her husband and her dog, because she spent a lot of time with them, but I just always felt that she was there 24/7 because she wanted to. She was an amazing talent, and she was very private about her illness. No one knew what she went through these last four years, and it was if life [proceeded] as usual. I saw strength and courage and beauty and dignity and warmth. The whole package. 

Eileen Benwitt, Chief Talent Officer

Serena was a light. She had such a spirit for living and life in all things Horizon. She loved Horizon. She loved her job. The thing that always made me in awe of her was [her] beauty, her elegance and the fact that she seemed to just be able to do it [all] with ease. She had an unwavering commitment to do [the work] and do it well, with excellence and for the betterment of everybody she came into contact with. She just had this amazing spirit of life.

Eva Kantrowitz, Chief Strategy Officer 

I’m feeling a deep personal loss. She was a confidant and sounding board. If you were having an intense discussion about something going on with a client or in the business or internally, the next minute you could be joking around [with her]. In the LA office, she took care of us and took [us] out. She drove [us] around LA and her cute little porsche. She was a fantastic cook and hostess and despite all the work she had to do and everything she was going through medically, she was still cooking and posting pictures of these delicious meals and taking care of her family. She was a very strong person that I admired in every way.

Ricki Goldhamer, SVP, HR Business Partner

Serena was the heart of the company in LA. She really inspired people and made them feel welcome. She was incredibly funny and charismatic. 

She held a monthly meeting for the LA office where we talked about personal and professional things, celebrating births and house purchases, but also client wins and new business and trends in the marketplace. But she kept everybody laughing; she had a self deprecating way about her that made everybody feel at ease. 

And it was so nice to see a leader who could be so effective as well. She led a lot of creativity and innovation and inspired and mentored people to do the same. And while she was a private person in many ways, and sometimes you don't know what was going on behind those beautiful eyes, you definitely got to know her through her actions, and her commitment to the people in and outside of the office from a charity standpoint in LA.

But it was fun in the office as well. We celebrated. We had three key parties: the Christmas holiday party, the summer party and the Halloween party, where everybody got decked out to the nines. She led that. She set the tone. She would make her own outfit and provide themes for all of us to take part in. She just loved the joy of it, and the silliness of it. She was always acknowledging and celebrating people with an eye towards fun.

Cindy Kim, EVP, Managing Partner

I knew Serena before Horizon. I met her at UM. And she was infamous for her flair for presentation and aesthetic. Even to this day, when I speak to some of my old friends at UM, it's like ‘oh my God, that was the infamous Serena deck.’ 

She just had a presence about her. She was exceptionally personable and smart and could distill really complicated information quickly. She was really inspiring and she challenged me. But then we also had this fun relationship where five minutes later we talked about being parents of young kids and going through the whole school process. We just had a really genuine professional and personal relationship that will always stay with me forever.

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