CorpComms Awards

Best media relations campaign

Winner 2021
Shop Small: We’re open
American Express
Agency: Hope & Glory

American Express has a history of supporting small businesses, through its Shop Small initiative and through Small Business Saturday, of which it is a founding and principal supporter.

As part of the Shop Small initiative, card members are offered £5 credit for every £10 that they spend in a registered small business during December, providing an incentive for them to seek out local shops.

During lock down, the periods when retailers and restaurants could open became vital to their survival prompting American Express to make its Shop Small initiative available in July (as well as December) to encourage card holders to support local businesses.

Agency Hope & Glory was tasked with making consumers recognise the vital role they could play in supporting local high streets, and that many outlets were dependent on that support for their survival.

And it also had to make sure that Amex card holders understood the financial benefits available to them if they shopped locally in small outlets.

Hope & Glory worked with five British illustrators to create unique We’re Open signs. The five included Charlotte Posner, who is renowned for her creative Pop Doll series, and hand lettering artist Oli Frape, were chosen because of their affiliation with small businesses.

It encouraged small and independent American Express merchants, ranging from florists to fashion designers to restaurants, to take compelling images showing that they were open for business, capturing both the We’re Open signs and American Express branding. These images were designed to be media friendly and capture the attention of picture editors.

A survey of small merchants, which accompanied the imagery and provided a news hook for the story, revealed that just one third expected a return to normality by the end of 2020.

With the different rules around lockdown, the campaign launched first in England and then rolled out across Scotland, working with outlets in Glasgow and Edinburgh. (Festive themed ‘We’re Open’ signs were used for the traditional December campaign.)

When the campaign launched in England, it achieved front page stories across iPaper and Daily Star, as well as double page spreads in the Daily Mirror. Imagery from the campaign also dominated the BBC News home page. All told, it achieved more than 220 pieces of coverage, including ten national pieces.

The Scottish launch achieved front page pieces across The Herald and The Scotsman, which were accompanied by the campaign’s heavily branded imagery.

The second reopening of non-essential businesses on 2 December took place three days ahead of Small Business Saturday. The merchants took new imagery with the festive signage, and a front page piece in The Times highlighted how much they needed seasonal shoppers to visit their local high streets. This ‘second bite’ achieved 500 pieces of coverage.

More importantly, the media relations campaign had a real and important impact. Record levels of card members took part in the programme, spending £1.1 billion on Small Business Saturday 2020, up 25 per cent on the previous year.

It also impacted perception of American Express. FLY Research found that agreement with the statement ‘American Express supports small businesses’ rose from 22.2 per cent to 65.2 per cent among all consumers, while 96 per cent of card members agreed they felt inspired to shop locally.