3 PR lessons from scouting groups’ war of words

It’s “he said, she said” on a national scale.

News broke Wednesday that the Boy Scouts of America would open their ranks
to girls, allowing female scouts to achieve the group’s highest honor:
Eagle Scout.

The Boy Scouts say they’re working to better serve families.

The Girl Scouts say its male counterparts are making a desperate play to
bolster membership.

NBC News reported:

“We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of
families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their
children,” said Michael Surbaugh, chief executive of the Boy Scouts.

Starting next year, young girls can join Cub Scout units, known as dens.
Local scouting organizations can choose to have dens for girls and dens for
boys. “Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls,” the
organization said in a statement.

The Boy Scouts say the move was motivated by requests from families and
parents who wanted to enroll their daughters in scouting programs.

In a press release on its website, BSA wrote:

Families today are busier and more diverse than ever. Most are dual-earners
and there are more single-parent households than ever before [1], making
convenient programs that serve the whole family more appealing.
Additionally, many groups currently underserved by Scouting, including the
Hispanic and Asian communities, prefer to participate in activities as a
family. Recent surveys [2] of parents not involved with Scouting showed
high interest in getting their daughters signed up for programs like Cub
Scouts and Boy Scouts, with 90 percent expressing interest in a program
like Cub Scouts and 87 percent expressing interest in a program like Boy
Scouts. Education experts also evaluated the curriculum and content and
confirmed relevancy of the program for young women.

(The bracketed numbers refer to footnotes. More on that questionable tactic

The news comes only two months after the Girl Scouts of America wrote a
letter accusing the BSA of deliberately undercutting the GSA brand and
membership base.

BuzzFeed reported:

The letter suggested that BSA was using the proposed girls programs as a
way to bolster their “declining membership.”

“Rather than seeking to fundamentally transform BSA into a co-ed program,
we believe strongly that Boy Scouts should instead take steps to ensure
that they are expanding the scope of their programming to all boys,
including those who BSA has historically underserved and underrepresented,
such as African American and Latino boys,” [Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, GSUSA’s
national president] wrote.

The news is exciting to some young women. One vocal activist who pushed the
BSA to open its ranks is Sydney Ireland, an avid scout from Manhattan.

For a profile with WNYC in April she said:

“I just want to see a change,” she said. “Right now they’re discriminating
against girls, and I’m just calling it as it is.”

Now the BSA is changing, and not everyone is happy about it.



The Boy Scouts used the International Day of the Girl to promote the
decision as a step toward greater equality and inclusion.


The Girl Scouts are not happy about the development.



The Girl Scouts didn’t mince words in assessing the BSA.
ABC News reported:

“The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Girl Scouts told ABC News in a
statement today. “Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing
sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA’s senior
management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting

[RELATED: Discover the digital strategies you need to break out of your silo and succeed in today’s changing marketing communications mashup.]

Here are three takeaways for communicators:

Focus on individuals’ stories.
In explaining its decision, the BSA pointed to requests from families to
allow girls to join the Scouts as a pivotal factor. By sharing the story of
Ireland—the young woman who lobbied to join the Boy Scouts—the BSA gave a
face to the problem it was addressing and kept the discussion from veering
into theoretical ideas about gender. Ireland’s push offers a far better
rationale than a data set or educational study might.

No one is reading the footnotes.
The BSA used footnotes in its press release to cite scientific studies
involved in the decision. The studies were important, given that the Girl
Scouts and others alleged
the BSA was recklessly creating a scouting experience for girls with nopreparation or foresight. However, few news stories included those studies. They weren’t read or
shared by reporters—probably because they were buried in footnotes. If
supportive information is crucial, provide a visualization that journalists
can use in their reporting.


Partner with organizations to smooth over rocky transitions.

The BSA didn’t come to this decision in a vacuum, but its announcement
seems to have caught many by surprise. Despite the Girl Scouts’ opposition,
the BSA knew of other organizations that might have applauded the move. For
example, the National Organization for Women could have been a valuable
strategic partner; instead, NOW issued only tepid support.

CNN wrote:

The National Organization for Women had a mixed response to the Boy Scouts’
announcement. “I think it’s a good thing in that the Boy Scouts have a long
history of discrimination and they are taking action,” NOW President Toni
Van Pelt said. “The devil is in the details and we need to wait and see how
this plays out.”

How would you have launched this campaign, PRDaily readers?

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