In 2002, when M Booth has partnered with American Express OPEN—the small business brand of the financial services giant—to position it as an advocate for small business owners and entrepreneurs, there was evidence that both the company and merchants could benefit: American Express could demonstrate its empathy with entrepreneurs, some of whom were concerned about high processing fees; while business owners would find a powerful ally in their effort to compete with big box retailers and department stores.
Over the decade since then, OPEN and its agency partner have created a signature program that demonstrates how public relations, anchored in research and insight, can unlock a brand’s potential, lead an integrated communications effort, and provide a foundation between the company and one of its key stakeholders.
It’s an effort that is worthy of one of our extremely rare Lifetime Achievement SABRE Awards, which recognize long-running campaigns that have expanded beyond communications to become part of an organization’s culture and its DNA.
M Booth’s relationship with OPEN began in 2002 as a project to publicize results from the Small Business Monitor to top-tier national and regional media. The survey’s questions focused on the issues facing small business owners and were designed to provide tracking and trending data.
The firm continues to promote the Small Business Monitor, which has become a widely cited bellwether for the small business economy and positions OPEN as a small business advocate and a leading national authority.
But the campaign has served as the basis for several other advocacy efforts. After OPEN’s primary research revealed challenges and opportunities for women entrepreneurs, the company launched the Women’s Business Initiative, a targeted set of programs in partnership with key women’s advocacy organizations, including the marquee “Make Mine a Million” campaign to help female entrepreneurs grow million-dollar businesses.
In 2006, M Booth and OPEN took the program national with a launch at the National Press Club with then-Senator Hillary Clinton and partner Count Me In. In 2008, at the start of the “great recession,” the two partners launched “Give Me 5” in partnership with Women Impacting Public Policy to give more women business owners improved access to new government contracts at a time when private sector demand was evaporating.
Building on its success working with women business owners, OPEN has broadened its focus to federal contracting opportunities for all of America’s small businesses, launching the Victory in Procurement program in 2009 to help business owners overcome barriers by demystifying the contracting process with information, tools and resources. In 2012, the program facilitated more than 2,300 one-on-one meetings between small businesses and their government customers.
And when in 2007 the Small Business Monitor showed that just 62 percent of small businesses were promoting themselves online, OPEN and M Booth launched OPEN Forum, an online community for small businesses, providing actionable information that would help entrepreneurs solve problems.
But perhaps the most critical development was the decision to become a major supporter of Small Business Saturday, which began in 2010 as a grassroots movement to create an alternative to Black Friday, which many felt primarily benefited big box retailers and department stores. OPEN has worked with a coalition of public officials, nonprofits, and communities to support local, independent businesses, appealing to the country’s deep sense of community and striking a chord with American consumers.
Today, the program is the ceremonial kick-off to the holiday shopping season for small business owners and consumers, including President Obama who uses the day to shop with his daughters at his favorite independently-owned bookstores. Officials in all 50 states and Washington, DC, have championed the initiative, with the US Senate unanimously passing a Small Business Saturday Resolution.
And Small Business Saturday has translated into measurably higher spending. US consumers spent a total of $5.5 billion on Small Business Saturday with independent merchants in 2012. And on the social media front, more than 3.2 million Facebook users “like” the Small Business Saturday Facebook page and more than 213,000 tweets were sent in support of Small Business Saturday in November 2012 alone.