Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) is the world’s preeminent organization for girls, with a membership of more than 3.6 million girls and adults. In an effort to produce original, groundbreaking initiatives, while further strengthening their commitment to serving all girls everywhere, GSUSA developed the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI,) a center for research and public policy information on the healthy development of girls. The center ensures that GSUSA continues to address the complex and ever-changing needs of today’s girls, and to supply accurate information to parents, educators, mental health professionals, youth-serving organizations and policy makers about the best ways to help them.
GSUSA approached PT&Co., their public relations agency, to assist in introducing the GSRI and its inaugural study, “Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time.” The study’s purpose was to identify the issues, challenges and pressures affecting today’s “tweener” girls ages 8-12. GSUSA’s Research Department, led by experts in child development, turned to the girls themselves to assess their top concerns, including dieting, dressing and even sex. The findings were alarming -- pre-teen girls are maturing faster mentally and physically, but emotionally they lack the skills to deal with this acceleration.
PT&Co. saw GSRI and the study as an opportunity to fulfill another important goal for the organization: to contemporize GSUSA’s image. Despite its rich history and strong membership, Girl Scouts was most often perceived as an old-fashioned organization, interested only in cookies and camping. The reality is that Girl Scouts is an organization dedicated to helping girls develop “real world” skills in areas such as technology, sports, business and science. The GSRI study was a key opportunity to contemporize the Girl Scouts’ image to the media, and PT&Co. recommended a New York press event as a dynamic vehicle to personally acquaint media with the new face of Girl Scouts. The event would accomplish the following: announce the GSRI study results via an interactive, compelling event, effectively position the organization as a resource for ground-breaking information on girls, and further promote understanding of girls by encouraging a lively dialog between reporters, Girl Scouts, and a panel of experts, on timely pre-teen issues that people don't expect to hear about from Girl Scouts, including body image, sex and censorship.
GSUSA oversees and supports more than 300 local Girl Scout councils throughout the country. Each council functions as an independent entity, with its own communications and/or public relations staff and its own contacts with local media. In announcing the GSRI and the “Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time” study, GSUSA was faced with the challenge of informing every council of the study findings, preparing them to react to local media inquiries, and arming them with materials to conduct proactive local media relations, while being careful not to duplicate the efforts of local councils who would also be pitching the story to their local media contacts.
The alarming findings of the GSRI “Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time “ study also proved a provocative departure from Girl Scout’s current wholesome image. Although GSUSA and the local councils embraced the “Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time” study as an opportunity to contemporize the Girl Scout brand, GSUSA and PT&Co. needed to communicate the news so as not alienate those parents, girls and media who are comfortable with the more traditional values of Girl Scouting.
The announcement of the GSRI “Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time” study coincided with the release of a number of other high-profile studies on issues affecting today’s teens and pre-teens, including an FTC report on Hollywood’s practice of marketing violent movies to pre-teens and teens, and research on teens and sports. The GSRI study was competing for editorial coverage with these studies, along with other timely subjects such as Back-To-School.
GSUSA became aware of the plight of today’s pre-teen girls due to the increasing number of emails that girls in this age group were sending to “Ask Dr. M,” a Q&A section of the Girl Scout Web site managed by child psychologist Dr. Harriet Mostache. Girls at a startlingly young age, often as young as 8, were posing questions about issues normally associated with older teens, ranging from dating and sex to popularity and eating disorders. Further investigation by the GSRI research team found a significant lack of research and information documenting the prevalence of these issues among girls in this age group. PT&Co. determined that research in this area would not only provide socially relevant information to GSUSA and society-at-large, but would also offer a newsworthy opportunity to position GSUSA as an advocate for the healthy development of girls.
In order to provide this much-needed research, GSUSA surveyed more than 2,700 girls online by partnering with SmartGirl.com, the leading online destination for pre-teen and teen girls to express their views and voice their opinions; and also conducted in-depth focus groups with girls age 8-12 to secure qualitative information to support the survey findings.
Position GSUSA as a source of hard-hitting, newsworthy information on girls, and contemporize GSUSA’s image among consumers.
Generate significant media coverage for the GSRI and its inaugural study on a national and local level.
Drive Girl Scout council staff, adult volunteers, parents and girls themselves to GSUSA as a reliable source for information on girls.
Introduce the Girl Scout Research Institute
Announce the results of the “Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time” study to the media.
Position GSUSA as the reliable source of information for “real” issues affecting today’s girls.
PT&Co. coordinated a New York-based media event to announce both the formation of the GSRI, and the findings of the “Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time” study. PT&Co. identified and secured a panel of experts well-versed on the issues affecting pre-teen girls to present the study findings. These esteemed panelists included GSUSA executives and members of the GSRI research team, led by Whitney Roban, PhD, as well as Sylvia Rimm, PhD, child psychologist and author of “See Jane Win,” and Sara Shandler, the 20-year old author of New York Times best-seller, “Ophelia Speaks.” PT&Co. also recruited Deborah Roberts, ABC “20/20” correspondent, host of “Lifetime Live” and mother of a Girl Scout, to moderate the event.
PT&Co. worked with GSUSA to develop invitations and press materials to distribute to national media, as well as local “boilerplate” press materials to be customized and distributed by the 318 local Girl Scout councils. Satellite and Radio Media Tours with National Executive Director, Marsha Johnson Evans, were also produced to announce the survey findings on the morning of the announcement. PT&Co. also pitched the story to national short-lead media and coordinated in-person and telephone interviews immediately following the event.
The GSRI program was evaluated on national and local publicity impressions generated, high-profile short-lead news articles earned, positive feedback received from local Girl Scout councils, and the increase in Girl Scout membership from September-December, 2000.
The GSRI announcement received unprecedented short-lead media coverage for GSUSA. To date, publicity has yielded a total of 97,864,362 consumer media impressions.
Despite the number of other teen and pre-teen studies being released at the time of the GSRI study, PT&Co. and GSUSA were able to break though with high-profile national and local market publicity. The majority of coverage on the GSRI study appeared in sections of national and local publications reserved for breaking news – a change from the usual feature and lifestyle coverage generated by traditional Girl Scout activities.
National coverage included an article in USA Today, two articles in Time, including a cover story on early puberty, and segments on MSNBC, Fox News and Oxygen. In addition, the SMT, RMT and VNR feed resulted in 792 broadcast news segments in 251 local markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Phoenix.
Ninety-four percent of print coverage focused solely on the “Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time” study, and one hundred percent of print and broadcast coverage attributed the study findings to GSUSA.
Feedback from local Girl Scout councils, GSUSA staff and volunteers was overwhelmingly positive.