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Susan Sobott, President, OPEN from American Express, American Express

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Small-business owners need good advice, and American Express OPEN's marketing efforts have focused on delivering it to them. Over the past year, OPEN, the small-business arm of the financial services giant, has orchestrated big events, intimate gatherings, and educational seminars and materials, all directed at helping small-business owners succeed.

Because some of the best advice comes from those who have been there, OPEN rallied former small-business owners and now-successful corporate captains, such as designers Kate and Andy Spade, Virgin Group owner Richard Branson and celebrity make-up artist Bobbi Brown, to help its cause.

Under the Making a Name for Yourself banner, the former small-business owners gave talks and answered questions from current small-business owners. One session was in New York, another in Miami and a third is scheduled for November in New York and will feature maternity wear designer Liz Lange, performance artists Blue Man Group and chef/restaurateur Mario Batali.

"The OPEN events help small-business owners think big to get bigger," said Susan Sobbott, OPEN president.

Both an online ad campaign and a Fox TV special rebroadcast of the New York event showcased the speakers in an effort to reach a wider audience. OPEN also created a TV special for cable's History Channel, featuring successful former small-business owners, including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and clothing designer Donna Karan.

On a smaller scale, OPEN staged customer events around the country. These events add networking opportunities to the mix, with typically fewer than 100 customers, associates and prospects attending.

In its ongoing small-business advocacy, OPEN also sponsored the New York Times Small Business Summit and MSNBC's "Your Business" TV show.

Small-business AmEx card spending was up 18% in the company's latest quarterly report, compared with gains of 14% and 15%, respectively, in consumer and corporate spending.

Another effort from OPEN, the Women's Business Initiative, specifically targets women business owners. Last year, OPEN launched the Make Mine a $Million program to help women small-business owners with mentors, money and marketing.

Sobbott knows firsthand the challenges of small-business owners. Growing up, her father owned a small trucking business.

"Small businesses are faster, more flexible and more nimble," Sobbott said. "As far as all of us at OPEN are concerned, small is big. And it's been big for a while." —Beth Snyder Bulik

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