This article was originally published on AdWeek by Katie Richards.

She arrived in the middle of the night, seemingly out of thin air. Her arrival was quiet but calculated. The following day—International Women’s Day—millions would know her as the Fearless Girl.

Standing roughly 50 inches tall, hands triumphantly placed upon her hips and facing Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull statue, she took the world by storm. Created for financial advising company State Street Global Advisors by creative agency McCann New York, the Fearless Girl statue quickly went viral online, garnering over 1 billion Twitter impressions in the first 12 hours, and eventually reaching 4.6 billion Twitter impressions and more than 215,000 Instagram posts over 12 weeks. A petition signed by more than 40,000 people demanded that Fearless Girl stay put, opposite the Charging Bull, through 2018.

The fact that Fearless Girl was created on “a shoestring budget” with no paid media behind it made it even more of a marketing marvel, said SSGA senior managing director and CMO Stephen Tisdalle. The effort reportedly generated $7.4 million in free marketing for the company across TV, social and radio, per Apex Marketing. Some sources place the marketing budget for Fearless Girl around $250,000, although SSGA would not confirm.

She was indeed a viral sensation, but how did a statue of a young girl help SSGA’s business, if at all? According to the company, her purpose was not necessarily to become a worldwide icon but to promote the one-year anniversary of the company’s SHE Fund, which invests only in companies that have women in top leadership positions. So did the company reach its goal of putting more women in C-suites?

Following the debut of Fearless Girl, “We reached out proactively to companies we invest in that do not have women on their boards to actually get them to understand that there is greater performance to be gained [by having women in leadership roles],” said Tisdalle. Of those 476 companies, 76 actively worked to promote women. SSGA voted against reelecting the board chairs of 400 companies.

“We have a huge, well-oiled machine that votes on a whole bunch of board initiatives for the thousands of companies that we invest in,” noted Tisdalle. “We are proactively voting for these types of changes.”

Fearless Girl ended up making a huge impact for SSGA’s SHE Fund. Daily trading volume for the fund shot up 384 percent in the three days following the debut of the statue, and 170 percent over the next 20 business days.

Challenge

SSGA had a perception problem: It’s the third largest asset manager in the world with over $2.5 trillion in assets, but within the consumer space, “few people really know how we invest, why we invest and what we have as an organization,” said Tisdalle. Among those values are creating and promoting gender diversity.

Goal

Get the 3,500 publicly traded companies SSGA invests in to truly focus on creating gender-balanced workforces. “It’s not about politics, it’s about performance,” said Tisdalle, citing a recent McKinsey study showing that if women and men participated in the economy equally, the annual global GDP would increase 26 percent (to $28 trillion) by 2025.

Execution

After McCann settled on a statue to help communicate SSGA’s gender equality message, the agency teamed up with sculptor Kristen Visbal to bring Fearless Girl to life. The team scrutinized every single detail of the girl from where her hands should rest to what her stance should be, making sure that the statue’s appearance would support what SSGA stood for.

Some see the girl’s stance as one of defiance of the bull, but according to McCann New York managing director and McCann XBC president Devika Bulchandani, “It’s not a defiant stance. Forward leaning means ‘I want to participate in the American economy in this notion of American prosperity that Wall Street represents.’”

INSIGHTS

1.Be thoughtful
Brands want to participate in cultural conversations, but as Tisdalle explained, “Brands who tap into big national or international dialogues need to have the goods and the right partner to be able to do it in a way that is not seen as a stunt.”

2.Communicate with partners
Keeping the lines of communication open throughout the whole creation process of Fearless Girl was key to its success, according to both McCann and SSGA. The name “Fearless Girl,” for example, wasn’t finalized until three days before her unveiling because the two parties continued exchanging suggestions and ideas up until the final deadline.

3.Be fearless
For a financial services company to step into the world of experiential advertising and make such a powerful statement about society “was perceived as potentially high risk,” said Tisdalle. But both parties knew the idea was a good one, and through constant communication and a little bravery, SSGA was able to create one of the most celebrated marketing campaigns of the year.

This article was originally published on AdWeek by Katie Richards.

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