One of the biggest mistakes that many units make is that they rely on new members to simply appear.
Recruitment is not a magic act. New scouts will not just appear. They join. They need to believe in the unit they are joining. They need to feel an emotional bond with the pack or troop.
Recruitment is a conscious and planned effort to have new scouts . . . and their parents . . . feel an emotional bond with the pack or troop.
Experts in marketing often recite the refrain of requiring “Seven Touches.” (It is so fundamental that whole marketing companies are named for the concept.) The concept is that a person will not build trust with any person, group, or organization without having had seven opportunities to learn about it.
What do those seven opportunities look like?
These seven opportunities vary widely in character. They can include a mailed flyer, a scout in uniform waving from across the street, a casual story about weekend activities with a friend or business associate, a simple conversation about scheduling conflicts, an email, a Facebook or social media posting, public webpages, placing information on http://www.BeAScout.org, paid advertisements, a follow-up phone call, a thank you note to a visitor, face-to-face networking, a table at a community event, etc.
Unfortunately most scouting units do none of these. They don’t use social media. They don’t update their profile on http://www.BeAScout.org. They don’t encourage members and adults to tell stories about their scouting adventures to friends and family.
This failure to tell the scouting story is a phenomenon that has grown progressively worse over the decades.
I grew up in scouting in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Following the publication of the 1972 edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, there was an attempt for scouts in uniform to hide their participation in scouting from the outside world. The post-1960’s mindset disliked soldiers and police in uniform. The theory was that scouts in uniform were not viewed favorably by association with adults in uniform. The BSA did not emphasize uniforms or broad publicity. They relied on the Norman Rockwell paintings and good feelings from parents as veteran scouts.
As a result we have nearly two generations of scouters and scouts who don’t like to tell their story in public.
What was the past experience of publicity about scouting?
From about 1912 to 1933, both the Indianapolis Star (daily morning paper) and Indianapolis News (daily evening paper) ran a weekly column on scouting. Essentially it was the weekly newsletter of the Indianapolis Council. The result of this column was that the entire Indianapolis readership was exposed to scouting.
In other sections of the paper, reports of scout troop activities and fundraisers would be listed. Often troops or district like our own North Star District would advertise upcoming fundraisers like “yard parties.” The most surprising part of these scout reports is the inter-troop competitions, like basketball games, would be reported in a manner similar to modern high school basketball box scores.
Now imagine a young boy and his parents. With the regular newspaper placements and publicly prominent events involving scouts, do you imagine that the troops needed to work very hard to explaining what scouts do?
I would imagine that the excitement came naturally. The young boy and his parents already had enough information to ask informed questions. Young mothers in 1931 had brothers or male cousins who had been scouts, so they had experienced a scout’s home life.
Post-1972 scouting suffers from a lack of information among its target audience. Many young mothers and fathers have no relatives who were scouts. They have pre-conceived ideas about what is scouting.
The problem is compounded because of scouting’s history of being perceived as a middle-class activity. People who grew up with lower incomes or in foreign countries may know even less about BSA activities.
Foreign-born parents may presume BSA units are more like units at home. For families from India, one of mother tells me, scouting is associated with wealthier families and learning military organizational skills. Some Latin American countries have similar expectations.
A pack or troop hoping to recruit a new scout first has to unravel many myths before new stories have accurate meaning for these young mothers and fathers.
Yet instead of unraveling these myths or inaccurate mental images, many scouts and their parents are afraid to tell friends and families that they are in scouts. “Being a boy scout” is often treated as an insult.
Consequently, our packs and troops need to find a way to persuade uninformed families how scouting would serve their scouts and parents well.
Having seven repeated opportunities to change scouting’s image allows a prospective scout to be persuaded in small doses over a longer period of time. A smiling scout in uniform at the McDonald’s may be contact no. 1. A Facebook picture of another scout in uniform laughing from the end of rappelling rope may be contact no. 2. A sign posted in the yard inviting the neighborhood to a sign-up night may be contact no. 3. A YouTube video of an Eagle Scout Court of Honor may be contact no. 4. A mention of scouting at a Scout Sunday service may be contact no. 5. A sign-up table at the school may be contact no. 6. A visit to the pack or troop meeting may be contact no. 7.
The Cubmaster or Scoutmaster may feel like a master salesman in persuading the new scout to join on the scout’s first visit. Yet, the sale on scouting was not made at the meeting.
The sale was made in seven separate pieces.
In the modern era, scouting rarely serves as the neighborhood little league, except in Varsity Teams (scouts aged 14-18 and focusing on sports). Consequently, scouting now competes with little league.
The seven-touch marketing method helps to allow scouting to move to the front of the prospective scouts’ and his parents’ minds amid the clutter of other extracurricular activities.
The successful scouting unit will consciously make these communications and opportunities to touch prospective scouts quietly. The unit will create and maintain a social media presence on Facebook (come see Unit Commissioner Andrew Linden at the February Roundtable lead a discussion on social media; details below). The unit will encourage families to post pictures of scouting adventures on social media and link to the unit’s social media page. The unit will encourage scouts to tell their scouting stories at dinners or holidays to the family, including younger brothers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, etc. The unit will encourage parents to visit weekend activities and to share their experiences with their co-workers.
Then when sign-up night comes around or a young boy is curious about scouting, the decision to join is simpler and faster. The scout is more likely to be retained.
To be able to make these conscious plans takes organization and some knowledge of the internet. Roundtables will be teaching some of the skills that you need to build a successful seven touch marketing plan.
Come to the February Roundtable at Luke’s Lodge, the outbuilding on the northeast corner of the campus of St Luke’s United Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St, Indianapolis, IN 46260. Unit Commissioner Andrew Linden will lead a discussion of effective use of social media as part of this seven-touch marketing.
In late April 2016, Council will announce its Fall 2016 marketing strategy. Be Prepared to integrate your unit’s social media efforts into Council strategy.