Behind the scenes of State Street’s ‘Fearless Girl’ campaign

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman May 13, 2018
How a gender diversity initiative launched by a B2B-focused asset management firm became a global viral marketing success.

Tiny, but packing a powerful punch as a symbol of female determination and defiance, the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue has been embraced by New Yorkers and tourists alike since she was first installed at Bowling Green in New York’s financial district in March 2017.

Now, after more than a year spent boldly staring down the ‘Charging Bull’ statue, with her hands on her hips and her chin pointed upwards, it was announced in late April that Fearless Girl will be moving to a new home by the end of 2018. At that point, the mighty New York Stock Exchange will become the target of her unflinching gaze.

The new location is pretty appropriate, given Fearless Girl’s original purpose of highlighting a lack of gender diversity on corporate boards, launched by the company that commissioned the statue, asset management giant State Street Global Advisors (SSGA).

At Marketo’s recent Marketing Nation conference in San Francisco, SSGA’s global head of communications and brand marketing John Brockelman took attendees on a whistlestop, behind-the-scenes tour of the Fearless Girl campaign, telling them:

It’s been an amazing ride for us as a brand – especially as a B2B financial services brand that normally isn’t involved in a big viral campaign like Fearless Girl.

Gender diversity drive

The background to the campaign, Brockelman explained, are a number of recent moves that SSGA has made to highlight the issue of gender diversity – and, in particular, the 2016 launch of its Gender Diversity Index ETF [exchange traded fund]. This is an investment vehicle that tracks an index comprised only of companies with a strong track record of promoting women to senior leadership positions.

On top of that, the firm was planning to mark International Women’s Day in 2017 by calling on 3,500 companies, in which it invests on behalf of clients, to do more to increase the number of women on their boards and threatening to vote against them as an institutional shareholder if they failed to make progress. Speaking out against lack of gender diversity is part of the firm’s ‘Asset Stewardship’ agenda, Brockelman explained:

To sum it up, as a large index fund provider, we have to invest in companies that are in the indexes… But, as one of the largest shareholders in many of these companies, we have a voice and vote and an ability to engage with companies to effect change. We chose International Women’s Day to signal we that intend to do just that on the issue of gender diversity.

Working with its ad agency McCann, and after some false starts and rethinks, SSGA settled on the idea of a bronze statue of a girl and the work was commissioned to sculptor Kristen Visbal. Fearless Girl was installed at the designated spot near Wall Street on 7 March 2017, the day before International Women’s Day, in order to ensure that SSGA’s message wasn’t drowned out by other events and activities planned for the day itself. But, said Brockelman:

One thing we did not do is just place Fearless Girl on Wall Street and hope for the best. We had an integrated marketing campaign all figured out, across a number of different dimensions.

SSGA took as its approach the PESO model for PR and advertising, which is based on four different media types: Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned.

  • Paid - SSGA went light on advertising, used a little paid search, and sent out an email campaign to clients announcing its asset stewardship policy and the unveiling of the Fearless Girl statue.
  • Earned - Brockelman said his team spent a great deal of time on news coverage, working with the Wall Street Journal on an exclusive announcing the firm’s decision to vote against companies that don’t have women on their boards, to be published in the newspaper on 7 March. In addition, the then-CEO Ronald O’Hanley announced SSGA’s asset stewardship agenda at a prestigious corporate governance event at the University of Delaware, held on the same day.
  • Shared - the main handles were on LinkedIn and Twitter, and Fearless Girl quickly went viral, once she’d been tweeted by influencers such as Chelsea Clinton, actors Jessica Chastain and Emma Watson, Huffpost founder Arianna Huffington and singer Ariana Grande.
  • Owned - CEO Ronald O’Hanley’s University of Delaware speech was posted on SSGA’s website, as was a video titled ‘Wall Street - meet Fearless Girl’, plus a blog written by a senior woman leader in SSGA’s ETF business.

Objectives and results

If a huge public response to Fearless Girl was not anticipated, as Brockelman insists, then he and his team were in for a huge surprise:

We thought this was a good idea and we knew it had some potential social power, but to give you an indication of how great an idea we thought it was, we only had a permit for seven days [to place Fearless Girl on Bowling Green]. Our intention was to have her be there for seven days and then we would bring her back to our Boston headquarters.

But with over 1 billion Twitter impressions within 12 hours of the campaign launching, it was clear that things wouldn’t play out quite as expected. It wasn’t just the online buzz, the experiential campaign took off, too, with the statue itself mobbed by visitors wanting their selfies taken with her.

The public got involved fast: within 24 hours, a Wikipedia page had been created for Fearless Girl - and not by anyone at SSGA, Brockelman stresses. Several petitions had been launched as people urged policymakers to make the statue permanent. Between them, these attracted 40,000 signatures on the first day. Recalled Brockelman:

Across 12 weeks, we had 4.6 billion impressions on Twitter and 745 million in Instagram… On broadcast radio and TV, in the three weeks following launch, we believe there were about 43.4 impressions with a specific State Street mention, and way more for just Fearless Girl. On print and digital media, around 140 million impressions. Our share of voice in those three weeks ballooned from 8% compared to competitors, to around 37.4%.

On top of that, he adds, average daily trading volumes in SSGA’s Gender Diversity Index ETF increased by around 170%. Views of that fund’s web page increased 450%. And State Street Global Advisors saw a doubling of traffic to its main website and a 650% increase in overall @statestreet Twitter handle impressions. But what’s that all worth? Said Brockelman:

We asked our media buying agency Fundamental Media to give us an estimate on what it would cost to actually purchase this kind of quality impressions whether on social, broadcast or print. They gave us an estimate: to meet that number of impressions, they said, it would probably be about $27 million to $38 million dollars. What did we spend? A lot less. All in, it was less than $250,000 to create the bronze statue and get a permit with the city of New York.

This was not just about business, however. It was also about social progress. For its Asset Stewardship agenda, SSGA was able to engage with 700 companies in the US, UK and Australia that didn’t have a single woman on their boards. As a result of its efforts, 152 have now appointed a woman to their board, and 34 more have pledged to do so. SSGA also used its proxy voting power with force, voting 500-plus times against companies that failed to take steps to address gender diversity.

Not bad results for a little statue that stands just 50 inches high. And at the New York Stock Exchange, it seems, Fearless Girl has more work to do. Welcoming the news of her relocation, NYSE president Thomas Farley said:

We eagerly await the arrival of Fearless Girl to her fitting new home, standing her ground and training her unblinking eyes on our engine or progress and free enterprise.