CMO Of The Week

CMO Of The Week: American Express’ Elizabeth Rutledge

Elizabeth Rutledge has been in the CMO role at American Express for nearly two and a half years. But the rest of her resume differs from her peers in one significant way: she’s been at the same company for nearly 30 years, an increasingly unusual occurrence at a time when so many marketers spend stints at various companies to reach the C-suite

Elizabeth Rutledge has been in the CMO role at American Express for nearly two and a half years. But the rest of her resume differs from her peers in one significant way: she’s been at the same company for nearly 30 years, an increasingly unusual occurrence at a time when so many marketers spend stints at various companies to reach the C-suite. Such a long tenure at the same company, though, has given Rutledge a deep knowledge and understanding of the AmEx customer, which she has said helps guide every decision she makes as CMO.

That extensive knowledge has also helped Rutledge guide the AmEx brand though the COVID-19 crisis. Having worked at AmEx when the credit card company launched Small Business Saturday during the 2009 recession, she knew how to execute a similar program in the COVID-19 era as independent businesses in many states struggle to stay afloat during the extended lockdown. 

And thus Stand for Small was born. The coalition was launched by AmEx in April with the support of more than 40 partner companies, including Uber, Twitter, Adobe, UPS, Salesforce and many more. Stand For Small offers U.S.-based small businesses support through various services, expertise and tools to help them grapple with changes in operating expenses, managing teams remotely and other needs that have arisen due to the pandemic.

“Small businesses are [part of our DNA]— we've been supporting them all the way back to Small Business Saturday in the last great recession of 2009. When it’s part of who you are it makes it a lot easier to execute a new or different strategy,” said Rutledge during Brand Innovator’s second Brands Across America Summit on June 26.

Rutledge shared key takeaways during her fireside chat on many of the most pressing issues facing marketers during these uncertain times. Read on for her four insights, and click the link below to watch her full Q&A with Crystal Eastman, VP of Global Marketing at The Trade Desk.


Lead with empathy. “With coronavirus, we put our colleagues first in those first few weeks. And when you do that, everything else falls in place in terms of what you need to do. I also have a firm belief that when you take care of your colleagues you’re taking care of your customers too. You have to continue to be empathetic so you can understand that everybody’s been impacted in very different ways. I can't put myself in the shoes of others. I just have to listen, I have to learn and that’s what we have done.”

Innovation in virtual events will tide us over until live returns. 

Most of the country has been locked down, while other parts are beginning to lift stay-at-home orders. Virtual events have become standard in many industries, from business conferences to live concerts over Instagram. Rutledge suspects that virtual events will stick around even after most of the country returns to normal routines.

“This crisis certainly has reminded me how important shared experiences are and I truly believe they’re going to come back. Right now we have to reimagine them. We have to figure out where our customers are and what their needs are, whether it’s thinking about virtual conferences or live experiences that follow social distancing principles. We’re actually executing and testing on those ideas as we speak. Whether it's live streaming theater productions, holding virtual office hours or events for our business customers who need so much help, we've had to think differently. I think you'll see some of these shifts continuing even as the shelter in place restrictions are being lifted across the globe. You have to adapt, and that's what we're doing.” 

Small businesses need our support now more than ever.

Rutledge said the ideation and set up of standforsmall.com, its effort to create resources and help for small business, happened in just 12 days, with many additional companies hopping on board after launch. “We launched in April with about 40 partners and we have over 80 partners there now. That’s a great example of agility...We always have playbooks, but none of us could have imagined having a playbook for this time. But it wasn’t a place where we started from scratch --  we referenced the colleagues-first playbook and make sure we were investing for growth. Small businesses make up about 50% of our employment and 40% of our GDP, so we all need to make sure we’re supporting them as much as we can and shop local.”

The fight for racial equality and justice is an ongoing movement, not a moment. Many businesses announced increased efforts in recruiting more diverse employees to their companies and donations to organizations that support Black citizens. But American Express was ahead of many of its peers when it came to speaking out against racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.  

“Our CEO Steve Squeri was one of the first corporate leaders to speak out about George Floyd’s murder,” said Rutledge. “And it was a very personal note to all of our global colleagues and really expressing the sadness and anger but also identifying that systematic and systemic racism. And I think the most important thing is just ensuring that we have a safe and inclusive workplace and that’s been our focus. We need to support our black and African-American colleagues and communities and we need to focus first on ensuring the safety, diversity and inclusion of our environments. And we have work to do. We can and we absolutely must get better. For us it’s about a long-term commitment it’s not just about one moment. It's not about right this second, certainly that’s important don’t get me wrong, but about a commitment we need to make over longer terms with sustainable change and actions. We have to look at ourselves first and take action there.”

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