American Express and NBC Universal are calling for nominations of inspirational small business stories for their "Shine A Light" contest, which marks the largest ever cross-property campaign at NBCU.
The winning small business, which will be announced Oct. 19, will receive a $50,000 grant and $50,000 marketing support from American Express and will be featured on MSNBC's small business show, "Your Business." The nominators of the three small business finalists will each receive a $3,000 American Express Gift Card.
Nominations, which will be accepted through Sept. 13, will be judged on innovation, community spirit and customer service. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, and MSNBC's small business expert JJ Ramberg will serve as judges and will narrow the field to three finalists, who will be announced Sept. 24 and then will be voted on by the public until Oct. 16. The contest is being held at www.nbc.com/shinealight, a microsite developed and hosted by iVillage.
The resilience of small business owners is especially relevant in tough economic times, said Nancy Smith, vice president, global media, content and community at American Express. "People across the country care about the local shop down the street and the restaurant downtown -- these are places where relationships are formed, memories are made and dreams are realized," Smith said in a statement.
American Express has been paying close attention to its business customers. The financial services company last month relaunched OpenForum.com, an online resource and networking site for business owners. In conjunction with the unveiling of the new OpenForum, American Express has been running a TV spot featuring actual entrepreneurs. The spot highlights the role that business owners play in their communities, society and the economy.
The "Shine A Light" campaign will include on-air and online promotion and in-show integrations on NBC Local Media's "First Look" as well as series of custom videos that will air on multiple NBCU networks and online properties. The videos will feature NBCU personalities such as chef, restaurateur, and entrepreneur Tom Colicchio and "Law & Order"'s S. Epatha Merkerson discussing small businesses that have inspired them and encouraging participation across media platforms.
The program will be heavily promoted on iVillage, where a series of articles with small business insights and tips will run throughout the next three months.
All participants, including those who nominate and the nominated small business owners, are encouraged to rally their networks to get as many "spotlights" as possible. Nominated small businesses require a minimum of 50 "spotlights" on the site to advance in the campaign. Nominees will be able to find several promotional tools on the Web site to help them raise awareness for the program and encourage online voting, such as widgets and badges that may be posted on sites like Facebook and MySpace.