By Suzanne Verheul
Whether you’re visiting the bank, picking up a prescription, watching a movie, or taking a flight, odds are good that you’ve seen the work of ICON Digital Productions. The visual communications media company – whose client list includes Pearson Airport, CIBC, Dior, Cineplex, L’Oréal, Hudson’s Bay, and Shoppers Drug Mart – is responsible for creating, installing, and managing many of the screens and billboards you walk past every day. Its work may be everywhere, but ICON itself is located right here in Markham, where it has set an ambitious plan to rise to the top of the visual world.
ICON has three separate divisions – ICON Visual, ICON Media, and ICON Print. “All things visual. That’s our trademark,” says Alex Christopoulos, ICON’s Chief Financial Officer. “We can create graphics, design packaging, pull some visual dynamics, and fit all these different media into one segment. It almost becomes like a one-stop shop.”
Founded in 1995 by three men, two of whom, Juan Lau and Peter Evans, are still actively involved, the company pioneered a whole new market segment: creating and printing larger-than-life graphics. In 2009, ICON branched out and bought Gridcast Media, which it rebranded as ICON Media in 2016. ICON Print – which specializes in the printing of stationary, catalogues, packaging, and more – is its newest division. It now has 275 employees and is the largest large printed graphics supplier in North America for the cosmetics and fragrance industries. Today the company’s primary interest is not in building hardware, but in creating content. “We’re helping brands put the right content on their screens that engages their audiences,” Christopoulos says. To that end, the company employs a full design team. It also has a team responsible for monitoring the digital billboards for signs of malfunction, power issues, and even hacking. Those enormous, flashing screens at Yonge-Dundas Square? They were installed by ICON and are being monitored in a NASA-style control room at their Markham location.
ICON’s experience with digital marketing and monitoring is helping them ride the latest trend in advertisement: closed networks. Stores and brands are increasingly adding media to their locations to drive sales, and they want to cater their content to their customer base. For example, in the morning, they may want content for the business community on their way to work. Then at 2 p.m., they may want to switch content to appeal to stay-at-home parents. ICON can make these adjustments to content on the fly. The company can also monitor who stops to look at the screens. The infrared cameras obscure people’s identities, but give a good idea as to gender and age group, and provide analytics on how well the advertisement is working. It’s just another example of the way ICON is poised to take on the future.
Already a $45-million company, ICON has no plans to slow down, aiming to become a $150-million company with 240 staff in the next five years through growth and acquisition. It’s also taking its “all things visual” trademark to heart and expanding into video production, a direction Lau initially wanted to go back in the 1990s. Throughout it all, Christopoulos says ICON will continue to call Markham home. “We strive on the entrepreneurship culture. We always have to be innovative,” says Christopoulos. “Markham is leading edge when it comes to technology innovation. We love Markham.”