Founder of Ogilvy’s ‘Espresso’ Unit Discusses PR Challenges for Startups

This week Ogilvy won headlines by announcing the creation of Espresso, a “service offering” designed to cater exclusively to the startup set. We were interested in learning more about the techies who create some of our favorite apps and other digital toys, so yesterday we spoke to Luca Penati, Espresso founder and head of Ogilvy’s technology practice, for the inside angle.

What unique business and PR challenges do startups face? 

Growth. Specifically, they need rapid growth on a limited timeline, and only exposure can help them achieve that growth with limited resources. It’s very important for them to do the right thing at the right time, because while bigger companies have the leeway to experiment, startups have only one shot at getting it right.

Even if you have a unique story it’s a struggle to get that exposure. And many startups were built by engineers who are brilliant but have a hard time telling their story.

How important is the origin story? 

Telling the story is all about uniqueness: what you bring to market and how you do it differently.

If you have a compelling origin story then you go with it, but if not then you need to be authentic. There’s a reason why an entrepreneur started this or that company, and you need to figure out how to explain that reason in a compelling way.

The origin story tells readers a lot about your company culture and who you are. This is especially important in the case of a startup, because it’s what makes you different nd its why people go to work for you. Be yourself. At the same time, some stories are more exciting than others, and you can’t fake it to make it interesting.

How does Espresso differ from other PR services these startups might pursue?

We give them the media relations they would get from a boutique firm and more. Startup teams often work like crazy focusing on one thing like the announcement release, but the key to success is a combination of media relations, social media and connections. There are three areas where we can really help them:

1. Association with the Ogilvy brand allows them to pitch more effectively.

2. While many startups are only focused on North America, we can help them scale globally.

3. We give them access to the entire Ogilvy portfolio: not only influencers but also our clients and partners who could become new customers and partners for them. We give them connections to other companies.

How can startups make themselves stand out in such a crowded market? 

They need to ask themselves four questions:

1. Am I solving a real problem with my product?

2. We’re in the age of 140 characters. Am I telling the story in a simple, compelling way?

3. What content and channels will help me tell this story?

4.  Are we engaging the right people and audiences? Are we trying to reach consumers? Stakeholders? Investors?

We don’t have a magic wand, but a startup’s unique business goals will dictate what it needs to do.

UPDATE: Startups interested in discussing pricing options should contact