You might ask, “What does Boy Scouts have to do with what this guy is interested in. Read on…
There is not much that I encountered in having two sons that rivaled the Boy Scout experience. It was a unique bond between father and sons. It offered me the ability to watch my sons grow, not quickly, but in slow motion. Scouting made every experience together a scrapbook of great memories. I watched my boys grow in character, in physical stamina, religious affiliation, respect for others, appreciation for the natural world outside, and in friendship with other boys and adult leadership. I, as countless other adults in America, have Scouting to thank for instilling in our young men what might not have been placed there without it.
For over a century the Boy Scouts of America and our Cincinnati Dan Beard Council have gotten it right. In 2017 they are struggling and, in my opinion, have reached a fork in the trail. I believe that Scouting for both young men and women is as sound a concept as it has ever been—even more so with America’s fast-progressing societal degradation. Historically Scouting has been a haven for participating adult family members and their sons. Fathers, mothers, grandparents and caregivers still seek this unique common tread with their child that will develop great character in them. They are looking for that event that they can share together, and an ultimate achievement that isn’t an “everybody-is-a-winner” one, but the coveted achievement of Eagle Scout.
With all of the talk of inclusiveness, local and national Boy Scout leadership has lost its compass. It is eroding its audience, even to the point of cannibalizing their beleaguered Girl Scouting neighbor. They are conforming to socially-correct pressure from minority outside entities. These are small groups by comparison to their much larger core constituency. This accommodation ultimately will not help Boy Scouting build on what has made it such a great institution over the years. It will erode it. Putting these issues on the front burner of their Coleman stove won’t increase membership by noticeable numbers either. This will continue to erode it also. Worse yet, it likely has opened the tent flap to those who wish to change Scouting for yet-to-be-realized motives. If current Boy Scout leadership continues to offend their core audience—the generations of families who believe in the mission, who fundraise tirelessly for the cause, who selflessly donate time, talent and treasure—Boy and Girl Scouting may not recover as we know it.
If Boy Scout enrollment was rising year-over-year, if American Scouting membership was strong, this commotion would not be happening, as illustrated in the NRA’s winning battle with opposition groups. As a parent who has experienced the program from Tiger to Eagle, I believe that leadership must reconnect with the people who have powered it. It must listen to their voice. They are today’s conscience for the legions of families yet to join. Also, leadership is blinded in the belief that the tradition alone is capable of perpetual motion, and that institutional donations, troop leaders and parents will keep them afloat. It is not happening.
When was the last time that you saw a message of any impact for Scouting done at the Council or National level? Scouting does not promote itself efficiently through advertising to its core or potential audiences. It’s time to take the Scouting message to America through national and local advertising campaigns that only a wide-thinking, full service advertising agency can provide. The program needs a fresh, inspirational message that is carefully crafted and well placed through advertising. This campaign should reintroduce Scouting’s rich story, its unique, American-made tradition, it’s devotion to God and Country, its emphasis on service, its development of self-sufficiency, its epic appreciation of our natural world, and its devotion to family, to Pack and Troop. Most of all, it should reconnect the message of personal growth that Scouting provides so well for all youth. More than ever, right now families need what Scouting provides. There are widening cracks in our youth culture that create anxiety for every care giver. They fester in great part due to the effects of electronic isolationism. What better way to reach this captive audience than with the online and visual medias they most favor.
To the Boy Scouts of America and Dan Beard Council Leadership:
Poor marketing is worse than no marketing. Excellent marketing can sell “Pet Rocks” to millions.
The solution to growing membership and long-term sustainability will not be found in accommodating small, vocal, outside groups that chip away at Scouting’s foundation. It will be found in reaching out to your much larger core audiences. Do it with a fresh team representing the BSA. Have them research your long-standing laws and messaging from a trail-worn 1911 Boy Scout Handbook. Bring out your incredible, archived visual images. Go back to what made your organization strong in the past. Promote the Oath and Law commitments that every Scout recites weekly. Develop a never-before-seen campaign centered on national pride, adventure, service and achievement. Package it in a dynamic, informative, and creative way. Set a goal of making the potential Boy Scout in the family say, “I want to do that!” Then you will begin to see your shrinking membership pie chart change in your favor.
With campaign progress, you will be surprised at the level of support that will rally behind you. Most importantly, don’t do it in a closed-door vacuum. Bring in the new ideas and the insights of a full-service advertising agency with a proven portfolio of work. Scouting has a unique story that can compete with the most patriotic and powerful American ad campaigns.
Families are thirsty for what Boy and Girl Scouts (separately) have to offer. Scouting’s answer to growth is in this new, strongly crafted message. We are listening. Make it a great one.