The bones of barterMedia barter aims to kill two birds with one stone for brand advertisers, enabling them to lower the overall cost of their advertising by effectively allowing them to partially pay for it with their own products and services.
Gutsy and risk-averse
Astus’s client roster is remarkably diverse, and includes 12 car marques, fast-moving consumer goods companies and financial services firms. “It’s all about the media opportunity, rather than the product,” Dickens explains. “If we can’t deliver the media then there is no product to buy.” Barter is a complex business. Success is a matter of talent, rather than experience. “Though many of our hires have worked in media buying at some point, we hire personalities, not experience. We need people who are gutsy, but risk-averse.” She sees these contrasting traits in Jackson and herself. When they set up Astus, they sold half to private investors to ensure they were profitable for the first year. “We didn’t need to do that. In fact, we were profitable by the third month.” Read more: Brand Union's Toby Southgate talks takeovers and Tesla’s higher purpose But caution is one of the fruits of her experience. Despite the firm’s growth, she has set a flat budget for the last four years. “I’ve seen too many companies expand fast and blow it,” she says. It took Astus eight years before venturing outside the UK to Australia and then Ireland. It is currently doing its first deals in China, where the red-tape is a source of frustration for Dickens. “China does quite a lot of contra-dealing, where companies will swap their product for advertising directly with media owners,” but Astus’s method isn’t yet established. Dickens now prefers client-led expansion, which informs Astus’s approach to Europe. “Europe continues to be a challenge because it’s so diverse. Everyone talks about ‘Europe’, but it’s a patchwork quilt, really.” But Dickens is strikingly optimistic. Rare in the marketing industry, she voted for Brexit (“if an acorn hits you on the head, it doesn’t mean the sky is falling”). She champions diversity, but warns against mandatory quotas, and shrugs off the Chinese slowdown (“7 per cent growth down to 5 per cent – I mean, come on!”) Read more: Could creating a Female Stock Exchange help gender equality Had she done her research, Dickens admits she mightn’t have gone into barter at all. “But passion can take you a long way.”