Girl Scouts' New CMO Faces Trial by Campfire

Iconic Group Seeks to Update Image Beyond Camping and Cookies

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NEW YORK ( -- Laurel Richie has to earn her Brownie points.

Outside of a stint at Leo Burnett in the early '80s, Ms. Richie has spent her entire career at WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, working primarily with consumer-package-goods companies such as Kimberly-Clark, most recently as executive group director.
Laurel Richie: Girl Scouts is a 'great brand' but a misunderstood one.
Laurel Richie: Girl Scouts is a 'great brand' but a misunderstood one.
But now she faces a truly tough task: overhauling the image of the Girl Scouts of the USA, an iconic organization founded in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low, and attempting to steer scouting into the future.

Ms. Richie, the first chief marketing officer for the Girl Scouts, talked (though not around the campfire) with Ad Age reporter Rupal Parekh (a former cookie peddler herself) about some of her coming initiatives to make the somewhat dated group relevant again.

Advertising Age: Were you a Girl Scout?

Laurel Richie: I was indeed. I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout. What I'm finding when I speak with people is they have such fond memories of the Girl Scouts and the role it has had in shaping them both professionally and personally. ... It's been very affirming to me of the choice I've made to join this organization.

Ad Age: What is your biggest challenge as the group's first CMO?

Ms. Richie: My goal is to really reinvent this brand. It's a great brand, it's got great awareness, but right now I feel it's not understood. The first thing we need to do is to really get out all the good things we're already doing that people aren't aware of. We're associated with cookies and campfires and crafts, and we're doing so much more than that. Like there's a girl who developed a series of self-defense classes for abused women living in homeless shelters -- she thought of the program, executed it and made it happen. That's a really impressive thing for a young girl to be doing, and I don't think people realize that this is the kind of thing that girls are doing.

Ad Age: What are enrollment figures like now?

Ms. Richie: There are 2.6 million girls and approximately 1 million adult volunteer members. One of the things we would all love to do here is increase our membership, to go from stable to growing.

Ad Age: Why haven't the numbers been growing? Are girls attracted to other groups?

Ms. Richie: It's less about going from Girl Scouts to another girl-centric organization and more about "I want to go to the mall" and "I want to hang out with my friends." There isn't a direct competitor that's offering the same kind of opportunity that we offer girls -- encompassing health and wellness, physical fitness, scholastic aptitude, friendship.

Ad Age: So, is it that the coolness factor of the Girl Scouts has eroded in recent years?

Ms. Richie: To me, it's about trying to be relevant to girls today -- and if we're relevant, then we become part of their lives. This has always been an organization that's been about developing leadership; 10% of girls are Girl Scouts, but 80% of business leaders were Girl Scouts.

Ad Age: Are you planning to hire an agency to help you with the revamp?

Ms. Richie: Yes. ... We're looking for a partner that can help us revitalize our brand ... to figure out what are the best vehicles for connecting with these girls and connecting them with each other. And we're hoping to do some identity work to examine the look and feel of the brand.

Ad Age: What sorts of changes to the uniforms are you planning?

Ms. Richie: They will stay mostly the same for Daisy and Brownie Girl Scouts, but for the older girls we thought about how we could help save them money by purchasing khaki slacks or skirts and a white blouse from anywhere they happen to shop.

Ad Age: What's your personal favorite cookie?

Ms. Richie: Thin Mints. In the freezer!
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