A startup led by one of the most senior women on Wall Street decided to troll Trump

If you live in New York City, you may have seen the ads earlier this year.

On brightly lit kiosks, they were a call to action: “Women of New York: cover your a$$” emblazoned over a silhouette of President Donald Trump.

It was trolling as advertisement, and Sallie Krawcheck’s Ellevest, a money management start-up targeting young women, was behind it. Krawcheck is the former CEO of Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch wealth management and CFO of Citigroup.

Some women posed in front of the ads in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighbourhood, posting selfies to Instagram. One person drew a swastika over Trump’s head. 

The idea for the ads, which ran earlier this year, came during a boozy discussion last year after the election, Krawcheck told Business Insider at a recent meeting in her start-up’s airy offices, also in Flatiron.

“Women were saying, ‘Son of a gun, I need to take action. What can I do?'” Krawcheck said.

Trolling Trump, at least in Manhattan, isn’t as risky a business move as it would be in other parts of the country. The city overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, mourned in the days after the election, and has since hosted countless anti-Trump protests, including one of the country’s largest women’s marches, which Krawcheck’s staff attended.

Krawcheck also isn’t worried that the ads may have offended the 42 per cent of women, mostly white, who voted for Trump. 

“You can’t be everything to everyone,” she said.

The company aims to sell itself to professional women (“Elle” in Ellevest’s parlance) in their 20s and 30s who are trying to get a hold of their investments, an audience Krawcheck says has been badly served by Wall Street. 

One of Krawcheck’s staffers, who helped create the ads, pointed out the moment was hard to miss.

“We were a feminist brand before … and we’ve always been pro-woman,” said staffer Melissa Cullins. “That doesn’t always resonate with everyone. It would be hard to be in the business we’re in, speaking to these professional women … without advocating very strongly for equality and equal rights.”

The neighbourhood of choice was also no accident. Some of Ellevest’s biggest adopters have been women in tech, financial services and consulting. Many of those women are working around the Flatiron neighbourhood and thus were likely to see the ads.

“It really addresses the change in the environment,” Krawcheck said, including “the issue of money being a form of protection for her at a time at which a lot is uncertain, without, of course, saying those words.”

It’s not the first time that Trump has served as a backdrop for Ellevest. Last year, Krawcheck wrote a LinkedIn post that went viral on being a working woman in the age of normalized locker room talk, for instance.

Ellevest is one of the few brands targeting Trump, and to be sure, in many places around the country, this kind of advertising wouldn’t work.

“A lot of companies, both startups and established companies, are reading everyday in the Wall Street Journal about do they avoid the topic, do they address the topic, how do they address the topic,” Krawcheck said. “People are coming out with different decisions and being criticised for them in a way I’ve never seen in my career.”

Ellevest has received some pushback — emails expressing disagreement over participating in women’s marches, for instance. But Krawcheck isn’t bothered. 

“Every company is having to make the decision,” she said. “We came to the decision that this has been an important event for Elle and that we are going to address it.”

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