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Changing focus: Public to private sector

Changing focus - Plan A to Plan BAscentor is a specialist information risk management consultancy that helps businesses protect their data. However, following the public sector cutbacks, the firm has been forced to refocus on private sector clients. We found out how the business has repositioned itself

The public sector cuts are having profound implications for businesses that have focused principally on government contracts. Many of these firms have a mix of public and private sector work but, until now, they have got the lion’s share of their income from the public sector.

David James - Managing Director of AscentorAscentor is one such company. Established in 2004, it advises government departments and businesses on information security. “We’re there to help people protect their valuable information,” explains managing director David James.

To date, most of Ascentor’s contracts have come from government and Ministry of Defence clients — organisations that well understand the need for information security. But cuts in the public sector have had an impact, although David says it has not been as bad as he feared. Even so, he reveals: “Many government departments have reduced their spending by up to 25%.”

Two years ago, as the downturn hit, Ascentor recognised that it needed to target more private businesses. The challenge was to convince firms that they needed to invest time and money in protecting their information.

“Everyone wants to reduce their overheads and IT is no different,” says David. “The cloud initially looks like a great idea, but how do you trust it? Our approach is to help businesses understand the risks to their information and recommend the most cost effective way of providing the requisite protection. It’s not all about technology and firewalls. You also have to look at printed information, even CDs and USB sticks.

“It’s about identifying what information is valuable, how it is currently protected, what are the risks to that valuable information and whether that protection is adequate,” he says. “It’s no different to any other business risk, but information risk management is a discipline in its own right.”

Marketing to the private sector

Shifting focus to the private sector has been the obvious step forward. But what David has found is that it requires a very different strategy and a whole new approach to marketing, branding and positioning.

“Previously, we got our government contracts through networking. We didn’t have our own sales force. So, initially, when we started targeting private firms, we didn’t do as well as we had hoped.”

In a highly competitive market, where firms are being extremely cautious about new spending, Ascentor has had to take a fresh approach to its new business strategy. It’s not enough to just say “you need our services”, consultancies like Ascentor have to use a variety of methods to convince businesses that this is something they need to take seriously. “It is about educating people,” says David.

That education process requires specialist consultancies like Ascentor to explain the issues and to highlight new developments — in short, to make a name for themselves as the “go-to people” for information risk management.

As a result, Ascentor took the bold decision to invest now in a marketing strategy that would take the company forward and put it in a stronger position as the economic situation improves.

“We have been working with marketing consultants, Bryony Thomas and Sonja Jefferson,” says David. “They have given us a good shake-up from a sales and marketing point of view.”

Using outside specialists enabled Ascentor to take a much more active and disciplined approach to its positioning. Now it has a new website, a blog and an email newsletter — all designed to position Ascentor as the experts in information risk management protection for businesses.

Social media is also a crucial part of the strategy. “We have rebranded and established ourselves as information risk management experts on social media sites,” explains David.

It’s a marketing strategy that could pay off for any firm that has previously been reliant on public sector contracts. It’s all about setting out your stall and establishing yourself as an expert in your field and building a solid presence in your market.

Find out more about the risks to your business information in this guide to information risk management aimed at company directors.

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