No small comfort

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Bertels said the agency has several campaigns in the works for clients in banking, aircraft and other b-to-b industries being hit hard by the downturn.

For client Intrust Bank, founded in 1876 as Farmers & Merchants Bank, the agency developed a campaign focused on messages of trust and stability, with personal messages from the bank's senior leadership and from banking customers. "This is a 100 year-plus conservative institution that refused to get involved in subprime lending and did everything right, but their business is affected directly by the downturn and the availability of cash and credit," Bertels said. "Especially when it comes to small businesses, it's important for them to continue to talk about their financial stability and how they have stood the test of time. In these tough times, for businesses to hear from other businesses that are going through the same problems is even more important."

AMEX acts quickly

American Express OPEN, the credit card company's small-business unit, has used this approach in building a community of small-business users at

When the stock market recently dropped sharply after Congress failed in its first attempt to pass a financial rescue package, the team at American Express OPEN scrambled to redesign its Web site in response to the growing crisis.

Early the next morning the site's overhauled home page went live, with the financial crisis—and what it meant for small businesses in the U.S.—front and center.

"We responded very quickly. There was nothing [else out] there like this," said Marcy Shinder, VP-brand marketing and strategy at American Express OPEN.

The new home page features a wealth of resources to help small businesses deal with the economic downturn.

For example, blogs feature small-business owners discussing their concerns; videos offer advice from panels of experts; case studies focus on success stories; and white papers offer financial planning advice.

Saving time and money

Other marketers are promoting products and services to save small businesses time and money.

"Cleary the concerns of small businesses are [focused] on the current economic environment. In the last few weeks, that has been magnified, particularly managing expenses," said Nathalie Vanheusden, business development officer at TransitCenter, which offers a commuter benefit program called TransitChek to employers.

Last month, TransitCenter rolled out a new ad campaign called "TransitFacts," developed by Stein Rogan+Partners, New York, to promote TransitChek to small businesses. The TransitChek program lets employees pay commuting costs out of pretax dollars, with potential savings of hundreds of dollars a year.

TransitCenter's integrated campaign includes online, out-of-home, radio, direct mail and guerrilla marketing. The company is also using Web 2.0 tactics to promote the service. It entered a definition for "commuter benefit" on Wikipedia and set up a LinkedIn page for TransitChek.

Tom Stein, president of Stein Rogan, said, "Small businesses have to find ways to keep talented people when sales are declining and markets are declining. People are under economic pressure and are looking for their companies to step up. It makes the [TransitChek] product even more relevant."

Stein said the agency is working with other clients to promote products and services that will help small businesses save time and money during challenging economic times. For example, it recently launched a campaign for Citrix Online, which provides Web conferencing and remote access products.

"Travel for business is increasingly onerous due to the higher costs of travel and lost time," Stein said. "We are messaging around the notion of doing more and traveling less." The campaign for Citrix's GoToMeeting shows how the product can help small businesses save time and money.

One TV spot shows the extreme things people do to avoid business travel, including a woman sawing her briefcase in half with a chainsaw and a man pouring lighter fluid on his suitcase before setting it on fire. The voice-over says, "Sick of traveling for meetings? Tired of paying through the nose for gas and airfare? Fed up with never getting enough done?"

The spot then goes on to show the ways in which GoToMeeting can help businesses make presentations, do product demos and conduct training sessions without the expense of travel.

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