Any other business

How to reinvent a sector with a bad reputation

3 min read

10 February 2014

It’s a PR truism that good reputation is hard to win and easy to lose - one which the UK utilities and banking sectors will be painfully aware of. But can sectors with a bad reputation reinvent themselves?

The sector I work in is media barter, which simply put is a business process that allows brands and media owners to trade without having to pay 100 per cent in cash for what they want. Some ten years ago media barter had a very poor reputation, largely due to a failed ‘credits’ system which left advertisers out of pocket. But it believed that there was a chance for the sector to thrive, provided it was done differently. That was the purpose of Astus UK. 

Today, media barter has shaken off its poor reputation and is seen as a smart business process by companies ranging from SMEs to large corporates. The sector is worth between £250m-£300m and its growing. 

So what are my top tips for reinventing a sector with a bad reputation? 

1. Focus on delivery first

Yes, the shareholders are important and you need to turn a profit, but not at your customers’ expense. One of the biggest obstacles to brands using media barter had been the perceived risks involved because customers had to pay up front before knowing if they could use their ‘credits.’ Once those risks were removed, brands were more prepared to give it a go. 

2. Do things differently

The key to reinventing a sector with a bad reputation is to do things differently. Customers need to see a radical change between discredited practices and the new approach your business embodies. 

2. Be prepared to invest ahead

If you are launching into a market with a bad reputation and committed to re-engineering business processes, you are likely to need upfront investment. 

3. Always honour your promises

Entering a sector with a tarnished reputation involves rebuilding trust among customers who may have experienced bad practice. We got our first few pieces of business from individuals who trusted us personally. Nowadays virtually all of our business comes by recommendation so we’re only ever as good as our last deal.

4. Don’t be afraid to turn business away

When you’re starting a business it seems madness to turn business away but when you are reviving a whole sector you need take a long term view. 

5. Stay true to your values

I’ve already explained how we turned the existing media barter model on its head but that wasn’t enough on its own. We also had to articulate why that was going to make a grubby, distrusted process into a respected business practice. So we spent quite a lot of time discussing our core values. In addition to always delivering on your promises these are ‘accountability, transparency and integrity.’ They inform the way we do business.
 
Frances Dickens is CEO of Astus Group.

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