The American Express Retail Index
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Holmes Report

The American Express Retail Index

Despite an environment of over-serviced retail reporters and a negative retail climate, American Express sought to establish a higher profile in the media for the American Express Retail Index, as well as to capture a greater share of voice during key sho

Paul Holmes


Despite an environment of over-serviced retail reporters and a negative retail climate, American Express sought to establish a higher profile in the media for the American Express Retail Index, as well as to capture a greater share of voice during key shopping periods. The American Express Retail Index was established in 1995 to serve as a publicity tool for the retail division at American Express. However, an assessment in 2000 revealed a potential for the Index to offer more value-added information to its merchants. From a media and consumer perspective, the existing Index lacked a brand identity that differentiated its research from that released by its competitors. As a result, American Express asked M Booth & Associates to revitalize the campaigns for Back-to-School, Halloween and Holiday Shopping, and brand it as “the primary source” for retail tracking, consumer spending habits and financial management.

With an updated model in place and a comprehensive approach planned, M Booth & Associates was poised to promote the Index in the nation’s top 35 markets.

The campaign created by M Booth & Associates generated nearly 400 million impressions in national and top 35 markets, while journalists nationwide came to rely on the Index for ongoing coverage of the retail industry.


The goals of the 2000 campaign were to increase media coverage in the top 35 markets by 10 percent over 1999, as well as to establish American Express as “the primary source” -- particularly an important Internet resource -- and retail leader in a competitive research arena.  


In an effort to secure comprehensive, national coverage while building upon the current Retail Index research model, the 2000 campaign focused on 1) revitalizing content to make the Index more “contemporary;” 2) creating new research vehicles to enhance the value of each study; 3) repackaging all press materials to “brand” the Index; 4) leveraging American Express spokespeople to communicate key messages; and 5) segmenting survey findings into themes and categories that would appeal to an enhanced variety of retail reporters and trade publications.


M Booth & Associates reviewed the American Express Web site and monitored coverage of Index materials released in 1999; tracked coverage of similar campaigns from the National Retail Federation, VISA, and the International Council of Shopping Centers; conducted research on retailing trends and issues online; conducted spot interviews with selected retail reporters on trends, usefulness of survey data, reporting needs; and conducted spot interviews with American Express merchants. 

The next step was to redesign and repackage three surveys. Each questionnaire was revised to create comprehensive, thematic results that would be useful to the media and to American Express merchants. Revised data focused on five-year trends rather than year-over-year comparisons. New research vehicles were added to the survey such as consumer “shopping styles” and “shopper types.” Thematic categories were fashioned into fact sheets that were created to give additional data on retailing; these statistics included: online spending, differences between men and women, regional differences, travel, as well as where and when people shop. These groupings proved useful, as they successfully enticed new groups of reporters and publications into covering the Index. To help the media associate this data with the Index, a branded logo was created and used in all press materials.   


To maintain a steady current of information throughout the year and prime the appropriate media, each Index was released prior to the height of each relevant shopping phase. Branded save-the-date cards were mailed in advance to approximately 1,700 journalists. Subsequently, they provoked an anticipation of survey results and a significantly heightened interest in the media. An American Express Retail Index media kit was sent to 800 national and regional (top 35 market) journalists, and the release was posted on the wire the day of release.  Each press kit contained a lead press release and an assortment of fact sheets along with two four-color charts/illustrations.  Subsequently, a team of agency media specialists contacted journalists online and offline to encourage coverage and secure interviews for American Express spokespeople.   


Overall, the 2000 program generated 359 million media impressions and 1,125 print and broadcast hits.  Highlights include:

  • A total of 813 print placements and 312 radio and TV hits.   
  • 103 million print impressions and 134 million broadcast impressions generated on behalf of the American Express Retail Index.
  • More than 122 million “hits” generated over the Internet with placements on,,, New York and Financial, among others.
  • Coverage in national media included: Associated Press, National Public Radio, CNBC News, Reuters America, Fox News, USA Today, MSNBC, CNN, NBC Network, Business Week, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Time Magazine.
  • 376 total million media impressions secured in top 35 markets in outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, and hundreds of local radio and TV stations.

Throughout the campaign, coverage secured in top 35 markets increased by an average of 34% over 1999.   
Media nationwide have become to rely on the American Express Retail Index for their coverage of the retail industry.

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