13 November 2017 | By Raman Sehgal Community

Accelerating exports

A chance opportunity rapidly took pharmaceutical PR agency ramarketing global. Here’s what chief executive Raman Sehgal has learnt since

Unlike most entrepreneurs, when I set-up my business in 2009 I had no real master plan. It didn’t cross my mind that I would one day run an agency working with clients around the world. Fast forward to today, and exports accounts for 40 per cent of our sales. Would you believe me if I said that just two-and-a-half years ago, it was less than 5 per cent?  

When opportunity knocked

The catalysts for our global growth were our niche expertise in the pharmaceutical industry’s contract service sector, the network I had developed and, of course, a slice of luck. A contact had referred us to a Danish pharmaceutical company and we grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

The enquiry was a huge deal for us – the project value was more than double what we’d worked with previously on similar projects regionally. It also provided an insight that the market would pay a premium for our knowledge of the sector, as well as our creative skills.

Having strengthened this positioning since, we now have clients across 15 countries, mainly in Europe and North America – which is a little unusual for a Newcastle-headquartered marketing agency.

While our first foray into the global market may have been down to a chance opportunity, our expansion hasn’t happened by accident.

 Once we set our sights on mastering this global market, everything that followed was planned meticulously. While we’ve gone off script a few times (naturally), I’ve chalked these up as part of the learning curve. These are the main points I’d like to share with other CEOs thinking about doing the same:

Become world class at something first then explore the world

It’s naive of companies to look at a country and think they can win there easily. After our win in Denmark, we felt that the world was our oyster, but we knew we needed to offer the market something different and even more compelling. For us, it was about becoming respected and known for our niche specialism, making us relevant and attractive to the sector, irrespective of location.

Be present, persistent and patient

It takes time for your brand to become synonymous with a market. I’ve been attending one of the world’s biggest pharma conferences for the last ten years. In 2015 we had just four clients there. This year we had 20.

Contacts I met at the conference in those early days are just now becoming clients. Patience is a virtue. And pesky persistence does no harm too. To these people, I was ‘that pharma marketing guy’, and that planted enough of a seed to meet a future need.

Understand the nuances

When you start exporting, it’s so important to identify and appreciate the slight quirks of different international markets. For example, US companies use us because of our knowledge of and contacts in the European pharmaceutical market. Learn to tailor your proposition to each market as one size does not fit all.

Prepare to up your game

Competing against rivals from all over the world is not easy. This has been a blessing in disguise for us as we regularly pitch against agencies from Europe and the US. So even though we are progressive as a business and always improving, it has forced us to up our game constantly. And that’s been great for our business.

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