A medical communications agency established in 2002, Porterhouse Medical Ltd has grown overseas sales exponentially over the past three years. BQ caught up with joint managing director Jon Hallows to see how the company made it happen.
Set up 14 years ago by Jon Hallows and Brian Parsons, Porterhouse Medical is a communications agency specialising in pharmaceuticals and healthcare.
Based on Reading’s Silver Street, the company quickly figured that there was scope for its services overseas as well as in its home market and began looking at opportunities abroad.
Overseas sales have since grown by over 300% over the past three years and now account for over 60% of the company’s total turnover.
The USA is its key market accounting for over 50% of total overseas sales and the firm’s marketing strategy is to concentrate on multinational companies that span several markets.
Hallows told BQ: “We develop and deliver medical communication programmes that are for global markets, distributed centrally through global medical teams and then interpreted and implemented locally by affiliates.
“The company was born out of frustration with our current employers in that we felt there was a better way of developing medical communication programmes, particularly overseas.
“The UK is seen as the centre of excellence globally for medical writing, we took that concept developing and maturing new talent to drive programmes of the highest quality around the globe.”
As any exporter will tell you, the art of trading overseas has its ups and downs no matter what industry you operate in.
<?UMBRACO_MACRO macroAlias="MediumRectangle" >
For Porterhouse, the easiest part of exporting was the global language for medicine being English, helping them when attending trade shows and meeting prospective clients.
The most challenging part however, was the approval processes which impact most businesses operating in any of the sciences sectors.
“Whilst most countries have similar approval processes, the local law which underpins each country code of practice may vary and therefore the approval varies, keeping up to date with each of the approval codes can be challenging,” said Jon.
“Dealing with working practices across geographies can also be a challenge, the first thing for us is to take a step back and understand why clients may pay particular attention to something that we may initially view as unimportant.
“Usually culture, ways of working and etiquette are different, particularly in the Asia Pacific markets, nobody expects you to get it right straight away, but you need to get it right the second time.”
With the duo identifying the US as one of their key markets from the word go, they decided to set up a US dollar account quite early on.
An approach Jon said really helped them break into the US market: “One of the first steps we took was to set up a US dollar account to give us some control over Forex.
“At least having the flexibility to decide when to change currency, gives you some chance of getting a favourable rate.”
Speaking about what the future holds for the company, he added: “The US domestic market is our next target; it will require a front office in the US but the plan is to keep the engine room (the medical writing capabilities of the organisation) firmly based in the UK.”
When asked what advice he’d give to a company looking to emulate Porterhouse’s success, he told us: “You must ask yourself if your product be produced or developed in your own market for quality control and would that give it a competitive edge over local products, if not there’s not much basis for export...”