CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: PROFILE - DAVID KING. Interpublic’s dollars 20m seals arrival of Icon as force in global new media. David King isn’t worried by his company’s low profile, Gordon MacMillan writes

You might not know it, but Icon Medialab is the only new-media agency on this side of the Atlantic to be listed on the Stock Exchange.

You might not know it, but Icon Medialab is the only new-media

agency on this side of the Atlantic to be listed on the Stock


It is undeniably a European success. But even after three years of

unrelenting growth, people still weren’t familiar with the name when

Interpublic snapped up a 20 per cent stake in the company a couple of

months ago for dollars 20 million - the largest single new-media

investment made by an agency group to date.

Somehow, Icon has snuck up on the world - prospering in its native

Sweden before spreading out across Europe. From the usual humble

beginnings - four guys in an old clothes factory in Stockholm with a

couple of Apple Macs - Icon Medialab is today a listed company with more

than 400 staff in 12 countries.

People are impressed. Not least Gil Fuchsberg, corporate director, new

media and technologies, at Interpublic. From his perspective, the deal

with Icon makes a lot of sense: ’It neatly aligns with a lot of the

elements that have helped Interpublic’s networks succeed, particularly

where it counts - working with clients internationally and growing the

business in partnership with those clients.’

The cash from Interpublic gives Icon the chance to expand further, but

while US growth is high on the agenda, it is continuing to secure its

position in Europe. Last month, it acquired new-media companies in

France, Italy and London.

Icon has been operating in the UK since September 1997, but in April it

bought the 15-strong new-media agency, IN.form, an acquisition that

brought the London office up to 70 people.

But according to the man they all report to - UK managing director,

David King - their number is set to swell to more than 100, even without

the work that will flow from the Interpublic deal.

That, by anyone’s standard, is phenomenal growth. King, however, sees it

all as perfectly straightforward. ’This is as it should be,’ he


’We are building a global network to service a global medium. It is not

just a nice idea.’

King has had his fill of nice ideas that remain just that. In

particular, he looks back at his time at DDB Needham in Dallas and New

York with a certain rancour.

He joined DDB in 1993 and a year later founded DDB Interactive. The

agency was part of the first wave of US interactive operations and

created some of the big web projects of the time, including the Pepsi

World website.

Unlike Icon, however, DDB wasn’t looking to expand. ’Here was a company

with 280 offices in 80 countries and all those client relationships and

yet, when I made an effort to expand DDB Interactive, the move was not

embraced. That was it for me really.’

King left DDB in early 1997 and, during the final stages of negotiations

for another job, he was approached by a headhunter. He met the Icon

founders and two weeks later he was stepping off a plane and walking

into a London Bridge office with two people and a lot of empty space.

That space is now busy with clients like Fujitsu and Amersham Pharmacia


It is only now, 18 months later, that King feels Icon UK has achieved

the desired critical mass. The recent acquisition was vital to achieving


’Eight people sitting around in a bedsit just doesn’t cut it any more,’

he says, reflecting on the speed with which such operations have been

left behind as the new-media industry becomes increasingly


’Critical mass is being able to support five large strategic clients, as

well as being able to handle smaller projects, pitch for new business

and allow people time to think.’

It is critical mass that allows Icon to develop its structure and

culture in a way that is distinct from ad agencies, the aping of which

is now as old hat as the bedsit geeks.

Icon has moved on to what it calls HCI - human-computer interaction: ’It

isn’t the brand that is important,’ King explains, ’it is usability. We

are in an applications- not a brand-based medium.’

King points to the example of an online bank. Are you, he asks,

concerned with the bank’s brand? No, because you already bank there.

What you are concerned with is how you get on when you try to use it.

That, he says, is a step beyond the brand.

’That’s where we are different from the rest of the industry. Sure,

there is some crossover with what Icon does and what does,

but only in the same way that there is overlap with McKinsey.’

The difference is part of what excites King. Perhaps it also explains

the Icon brand’s low profile. But then, as long as clients are suitably

impressed with its usability, why should he care?


1974: Trinity University, San Antoine, Texas

1977: Video directing for Rod Stewart and Small Faces, Sex Pistols,

Rolling Stones

1982: Elektra Pictures Inc, vice-president, marketing and sales

1988: TPE/Telerep, producer director

1993: DDB Needham, director of future technologies

1994: DDB Interactive, managing director

1997: Icon Medialab, UK managing director.