Boy Scouts Get 21st-Century Makeover

Organization Working on PR and Branding, Recruiting Hispanic Youth

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NEW YORK ( -- The Boy Scouts of America are coming into the 21st century.

The 100-year-old organization has adopted a branding department and a marketing group; is working with PR shop Fleishmann Hilliard on a centennial campaign; and is trying to make the scouting experience more relevant with moves such as adding GPS systems to the traditional compass for hiking trails. But in what looks to be the biggest marketing shift for the organization, the Boy Scouts are now targeting Latino youths -- a particularly sparse segment of membership in a traditionally Caucasian-dominated institution.

Boy Scouts salute
Boy Scouts salute Credit: AP/Brynne Shaw
The dearth is especially large considering the slice Latinos claim in the national population pie chart -- one in five juveniles under 18 identifies himself or herself as Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census. Yet when matched up against Scout membership, the number shrinks to 3%.

So on the heels of its centennial, and amid waning ranks (its 2.8 million-strong membership is nearly half what it was 25 years ago), the Scouts have made the recruitment of Hispanics central to their image overhaul.

That effort is being helmed by the Hispanic Communications Network, an amalgamation of media portals that also develops multiplatform strategies to help organizations, usually in the government and nonprofit sectors, communicate their message to the Hispanic community.

The challenges ahead
"This is really the launch of the brand to the Latino population in the U.S.," said HCN's president, Carlos Alcazar. Formerly an agency executive and a teacher in the South Central section of Los Angeles, Mr. Alcazar has held VP positions at Simon & Schuster and Viacom and specializes in Hispanic-centric media strategies.

Mr. Alcazar said the first challenge is to establish an infrastructure of sufficient bilingual and Latino staff, as well as appropriate information that could support new Hispanic membership. To remedy that, six pilot councils are planned to open next month in some of the country's most densely Hispanic areas, including California's San Jose and Fresno, New York, Chicago, Orlando and south Texas.

Logistically, this was the easy part. According to Mr. Alcazar, the Boy Scouts' major draught stemmed from its brand projection, or lack thereof. He said that in order to attract interest in minority communities, the Boy Scout story needed to be retooled to those populations. "People just didn't know about the organization," he said. "Even though they have an international presence in many cases, Boy Scouts are associated with being an upscale program for upper-middle-class families."

Integrated campaign
And so to get the word out and quash the misconceptions, HCN is readying an integrated campaign. While Mr. Alcazar said it's still in the planning stages, he plans to encompass TV, radio, print and social media over the course of 2009, with a launch expected for the second quarter, and a "strong national push" to come in the fall.

The marketing blast will perhaps be the Scouts' most noticeable effort. But its retooling aims to touch every aspect of the organization. Stephen Medlicott, director-marketing and communications for the Boy Scouts of America National Council, said the group's main goal is to bring clarity and consistency to the organization in all markets.

"We're reintroducing the concept of scouting to a large part of the population," said Mr. Medlicott. "You know, things that worked 99 years ago don't work any more. The question has become, 'How do we maintain relevancy?' With today's youth, that's harder than ever before."

To some end, that means supplementing the consummate Scout map and compass for GPS systems, Mr. Medlicott said, but more largely, it's hinged upon a deep restructuring. "We've allowed our brand to become so decentralized and diffused," he said. "We've got a database of 2,000 logos that have been stacked up for a hundred years. It's kind of been living everywhere, and so it's been living nowhere."

Most urgent demo
Mr. Medlicott said the National Council has established a brand department and added a new marketing group. They're also working with Fleishman-Hillard on its centennial campaign, something Mr. Medlicott said is an intrinsic part of the focus.

While the Latino audience is not the sole attention of the Boy Scouts' revitalization efforts (it has also set up a collaborative "emerging markets" task force that is drawing up separate strategies for African-American and Asian-American youths) this demographic seems to be its most urgent.

Rick Cronk, former national president of the Boy Scouts, framed the dilemma plainly for the Associated Press. "We either are going to figure out how to make scouting the most exciting, dynamic organization for Hispanic kids," he said, "or we're going to be out of business."

"There's very little emotional connection among Latino parents," added Mr. Medlicott. "With immigrating families, we can't rely on the word-of-mouth, father-to-son dynamic." Instead, he said the Scouts are relying on a platform that he said transcends ethnic background. "It's a focus on core-values -- of what scouting does for kids," he said. "For 100 years they've created the world's leaders -- business, government, society in general. We want parents to know the Boy Scouts increase their child's chance of success."

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