Ogilvy PR Explores Boutique PR Territory


Ogilvy PR is big. So big, that they have more than 85 offices across six continents. But the company must be hemorrhaging cash if they needed to penetrate a territory that has never been its concern.

espresso by ogilvy

With its new “Espresso” offering, Ogilvy Public Relations hopes to attract emerging brands and start-up companies to its client roster. The offering proposes a “modular approach” and “flexible cost structure” – things that boutique PR companies usually count on to attract customers, and to compete with the big dogs.

“Espresso” is not innovation, although the terms of the official press release introduce the service as “new.” This is just common sense strategy, named to appeal. The presentation embedded below shows just how Espresso will work for any Ogilvy PR customer.

If you are a PR practitioner, you’ll understand quickly that there’s nothing really special about Espresso, other than the clever PR tweak: “developed specifically with the needs of emerging brands in mind.” But if you are a practitioner who owns a boutique PR company (like I am), the move is at best bizarre.

Emerging brands use big PR companies all the time, no issues there, and I am sure that Ogilvy PR has had its share of startup customers in the past. However, I have never read news from a big PR firm advertising a “simple, affordable and flexible cost structure” as aggressively as Ogilvy PR before. Of course, I have never heard of a “public relations muscle” either:

“We partnered with Ogilvy because the new Espresso offering provides our start-ups the opportunity to access the Ogilvy braintrust and public relations muscle,” explains Halle Tecco, CEO and founder of Rock Health in the official release announcing Espresso.

Most boutique PR companies will look at the news with lack of interest, and move on. Some may giggle reading about a public relations muscle, others will probably say that you cannot take seriously news from a company that believes that pandas are primates.

But the question remains: is Ogilvy’s move indicative of a trend? If big PR companies are lowering their prices (affordable and flexible cost structure), are boutique agencies threatened?

What will happen if other big players, like APCO Worldwide, Waggener Edstrom, Ruder Finn, or the MWW Group, follow suit? What strategies will be needed for boutique PR companies to compete, considering that many of them offer services of equal quality with their more powerful competitors? Will similar news force boutique agencies to lower their prices to stay in business?


  1. Kent Hollenbeck says

    Other agencies have done it…Edelman has Sprout and others (some mentioned) have tried it, though not necessarily formalized it…or have abandoned it due to not being able to make the margins work.

    • Mihaela Butler says

      I remember Edelman launched it in March, no issue. They even mentioned back then the startups they worked with in the past (HootSuite, Roku, etc). It made sense to formalize it. I also know personally people from the agencies mentioned, and they all work with startups.

      But ask any startup owner how “affordable” their services really are.

      The issue with Ogilvy is that their announcement reads as if working with startups is something they’ve never done before. As if they’ve never had a “modular approach” or “flexible cost structure” – which I doubt. All agencies do, big or small, especially when they take new clients.

      This, however, doesn’t answer the question, Kent. What do you think small agencies should do if more of the big players start lowering their prices?

  2. Phil Butler says

    Next, Andy Polansky and Weber Shandwick will offer “Fish and Chips” PR for those who cannot afford Prime Rib PR cow muscle.

    Good lord, no wonder my conversations with potential clients trend toward quieting BS alarms.



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