OPEN aids female entrepreneurs

OPEN from American Express is dedicated exclusively to helping small-business owners, and president Susan Sobbott wanted to address the fact that only 3% of women-owned US businesses earn revenues of more than $1 million per year, says Rosa Alfonso, American Express Co. director of corporate affairs and communications.

OPEN from American Express is dedicated exclusively to helping small-business owners, and president Susan Sobbott wanted to address the fact that only 3% of women-owned US businesses earn revenues of more than $1 million per year, says Rosa Alfonso, American Express Co. director of corporate affairs and communications.

OPEN joined with Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence (CMI), an online micro-lender, on "Make Mine a $Million Business" to offer money (loans and credit lines), mentoring, and marketing resources.

Strategy

The idea was to help as many women entrepreneurs as possible while positioning OPEN and CMI as thought and resource leaders in growing women-owned businesses.

"A broader message was required to take this national," says Mark Schroeder, director and SVP at M Booth & Associates, which assisted on the effort.

The team created a "national movement" aiming to result in 1 million women-owned businesses reaching the $1 million revenue mark by 2010. At www.makemineamillion.com, women could apply for two national awards that would yield 40 winners, state their intent, network, and find resources.

"The national awards identified post-startup women entrepreneurs who have plateaued short of $1 million revenue," Schroeder says. "It allowed women to attend an event that's sort of like American Idol meets The Apprentice. They give a three-minute elevator pitch in front of a live audience and judges, who were looking for innovative businesses that can scale to $1 million or more within two years."

Tactics

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) spoke at the launch, which helped garner broad attention.

"When Clinton said, 'Too many dreams have died in the parking lots of banks,' everybody took notice," Schroeder says.

Julie Weeks of Womenable, a women's economic issues researcher, helped represent economic contribution statistics - namely that the movement would create 4 million jobs and add $700 billion to the US economy.

A quiz, publicized via a newsletter to Working Mother subscribers and direct mail to American Express card members, helped drive Web site traffic.

Personal and professional stories of award winners and local and national economic implication statistics were pitched.

Results

Goals for intent and award applications were exceeded by 100% and 90%, respectively. More than 15,000 women declared intent, and 950 applied for the awards.

"The application process alone helped [women] focus on their business, even those who didn't win," Alfonso says. "There was success in so many points in this program."

The effort drew additional sponsors, including Cisco Systems, FedEx, Intuit, AIG, and QVC.

"Trying to build a movement of 1 million and tangibly help as many as we can, the need is huge," Schroeder says. "Getting huge sponsors and brands has made a big difference."

Media coverage included 293 print and broadcast placements.

Future

In addition to two national events in New York (October) and Burbank, CA (November), this year's efforts will include events in 25 to 30 states.

OPEN from Amex

PR team: OPEN from American Express (New York) and M Booth & Associates (New York)

Campaign: Make Mine a $Million Business

Duration: January to December 2006

Budget: $275,000

PRWeek's view

It's great to see corporate executives taking action to help their customers - and their companies. This is a fine example of the reciprocal benefits of good deeds.

Calculating economic impact was very smart, as was pitching the human-interest stories generated from this type of consumer interaction. It is an ambitious effort to help a lot of people, and it was well planned and intended to help develop business on many levels. Indeed, everyone expected women to find growth capital the biggest program benefit, but they liked the mentoring aspect best.

It's nice to see a team unafraid to go big and broad, and even nicer to see the boost from additional sponsorships, which likely will help achieve the 2010 goal.

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