Case Study: Repositioning an Iconic Brand is Sweet Spot For the Girl Scouts of the USA

Company: Girl Scouts of the USA Agency: CRT/tanaka Timeframe: July 2006-March 2007 The Girl Scouts of the USA's (GSUSA) cookie program arguably is its most iconic brand asset nationwide, despite the organization's decision in 2006 to not actively promote the activity; rather, its leadership strategically chose to downplay its "cookies and campfires" image in favor of a more modern leadership positioning. "As we were trying to reinvigorate our brand identity, we were so closely associated with cookies that people lost the fact that we were really a leadership experience for girls," says Denise Pesich, vice president of communications at GSUSA. The brand asset, however, remained untapped, as the public "did associate us with a very successful program, so we received very little national attention," Pesich says. GSUSA partnered with public relations firm CRT/tanaka to develop an approach to reposition the cookie program into "what it really is and always has been: a business and economic literacy program that builds leadership skills in girls," Pesich says. Thus, the "Girl Scouts Repositions Its Cookie Program" campaign objective was simple: Garner public awareness of the Girl Scout cookie effort as America's top business and economic literacy program for girls. From a public relations standpoint, "the overall objective was to raise awareness that [the cookie program] is the premier business and economic literacy for girls," says Maria Kalligeros, executive vice president/consumer practice director of CRT/tanaka, which houses offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Virginia. "The community objective, though, is to teach girls those [business] skills." Getting Down To Business The GSUSA and CRT/tanaka team collaborated with more than 300 local Girl Scout councils to pinpoint "media-worthy" models of the cookie program's capabilities of building business skills in girls. The close collaboration between everyone from cookie developers to council advisers ensured accurate information, Pesich says. "All things pointed to this being the right time and place to come out with how successful the program is, and being able to talk openly about its success." The campaign strategy--opening up to the press to highlight the Girl Scout cookie program after several years--consisted of a two-pronged approach: concentrate on the girls and how the program introduces them to 21st-century business and economic skills; and hush criticism by proactively addressing sensitive issues, including allocation of cookie proceeds, as well as concerns about childhood obesity and trans fats. "Instead of talking about how fun and delicious a Girl Scout cookie is, let's talk about how the girls benefit from doing this activity," Pesich says. While the team pushed to create public awareness of the cookie program as a leading business and economic literacy program, the "overarching goal was to change the dialogue and to get people to understand that the Girl Scouting program overall is about building on the leadership capacity that lives within every girl," Pesich says. "The focus in the last year has been for an effort to reach out to the press to talk about how robust the program is around financial literacy and teaching those skills," Kalligeros adds. The team targeted a list of strategic tactics: Issue a media alert near the start of cookie season notifying journalists that all Girl Scout cookies now have zero trans fats; Distribute a press release emphasizing the 90-year progression of the cookie program into a national business and economic literacy program for girls; Develop an information-packed "Cookie Report" documenting all cookie program activities, including financial information to support the press release and media outreach; Deliver the press release in January, when most local Girl Scout councils begin cookie program activities; Distribute a resource kit for more than 300 Girl Scout councils nationwide to encourage area media coverage; and, Launch and promote a Web site,, in which consumers can obtain point-of-sale information to find out when and where to purchase Girl Scout cookies. "Girl Scouting is and always has been a leadership development experience, and the purpose of this campaign was really to use Girl Scouts' strongest brand asset to underscore that Girl Scouting is a leadership experience," Kalligeros says. The team executed its strategy from July 2006-March 2007, which included holding media training for national GSUSA spokespeople, developing key messages and Q&A surrounding the Cookie Report and conducting aggressive media outreach to generate coverage. Sometimes That's Just How The Cookie Crumbles There is potential for several challenges mobilizing such a large organization, including 300 local councils, Kalligeros says. One of the primary obstacles in positioning the Girl Scout cookie program as a business activity was overcoming the Girl Scouts national office's reluctance to divulge details about the internal mechanisms or mechanics of the program to the public, she says. "There was an 'internal fear' of talking about the bigness of the program, the great success of the program financially and through revenues because of some misunderstanding, perhaps, about how we would conduct our business and how proceeds would be used," Pesich says. "There was really an internal outreach to make sure that everyone within GSUSA was understanding what we were really trying to accomplish and was on board with it," Kalligeros adds. By sharing how successful the program was and how girls benefited, the team was able to turn the tide in that regard. Another barrier was altering perceptions by breaking through deep-rooted stereotypes of "'it's all about campfires and cookies, and aren't those Brownie girls so cute,'" Kalligeros says. "It's more than that--it's teaching girls business skills and putting this 'cute Brownie picture of girls going door-to-door' aside to focus on the importance of business skills, as that's what we're teaching girls." The creation of a "Cookie Report" document laid out some of the key business skills that girls learned and how they learned them, such as creating PowerPoint presentations, business cards and press kits. The report helped to combat the "nostalgic" image and offered opportunities to collaborate one-on-one with journalists to "really help develop the story that the cookie program is in fact a business and economic literacy program," Kalligeros says. Additional challenges consisted of continuing criticism from anti-snack activists, including a well-publicized call last year for a national boycott of Girl Scout cookies. GSUSA took a "proactive approach" and issued an alert informing the public that Girl Scout cookies had zero trans fats in 2007. "Getting that information and news out there really helped people understand the nutritional aspects of the cookies," Kalligeros says. Sweet Success The "Girls Scouts Repositions Its Cookie Program" campaign transformed the dialogue about Girl Scout cookies, shifting feelings away from the product and toward the skills girls gain from the program, Kalligeros says. The campaign estimated strategic impressions of more than 132.5 million, including only a partial listing of local stories, which are un-tracked by the GSUSA. Coverage included an article in The New York Times business section, excerpts in American Way and Fundraising Success magazines and an online feature on CNN Money. Additional campaign coverage include media outlets such as Fox News, CBS Marketwatch, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, USA Today, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "The O'Reilly Factor." "All types of media from broadcast to online covered the story, and they covered it in a way that was appropriate--not just as a nostalgic, fun-to-do thing, but really as a skills development story," Kalligeros says. The campaign also played a key role in boosting sales by roughly two million boxes of cookies. The number of Girl Scout cookie stories that referenced skills development boosted by 137 percent compared to the year-ago period and consisted of headlines including: "Program Helps Mold Future Entrepreneurs" and "CEO in Training" by the Houston Chronicle and San Luis Obispo Tribune, respectively. "We were able to track media attention in very different ways," Pesich says. "We were able to advance our messaging and get the attention of media in places that appeared on business pages," and "were brand-new to Girl Scouting in the type of attention we were attracting." These included The New York Times and CBS Martketwatch. The fresh forms of media allowed GSUSA to educate consumers and the public about the benefits and leadership skills of Girl Scouts. "We're not just building the development capacity to lead tomorrow," Pesich says. "Girls are already leading today, and they're learning skills that they will call upon the rest of their lives." PRN CONTACTS: Maria Kalligeros,; Denise Pesich, 212.852.5074 Keeping Campaign Efforts In (Thin) Mint Condition Changing public perceptions can mean breaking through entrenched stereotypes, particularly when dealing with a well-known brand. The Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) organization and public relations firm CRT/tanaka tackled that challenge last year with its "Girl Scouts Repositions Its Cookie Program" campaign. "We're a very mature, iconic brand that has very, very traditional history and heritage," says Denise Pesich, vice president of communications at GSUSA. "We decided to turn that on its ear, and let people know that if you think you know Girl Scouting, you really don't." Pesich offered these steps to achieving a successful campaign: 1. Be fearless. "Go out there with your great successes and be able to talk about them in compelling ways," Pesich says. 2. Distribute resources. "We have Girl Scout councils across the country that could help to leverage the campaign," she says. "We were able to have a great demonstrable impact across the country," which will continue into this year as well, Pesich adds. This particular campaign was one of the first programs in which the organization as a whole was "talking from the same page," she says. 3. Refresh materials. The team developed a "Cookie Report" that referenced all aspects of the Girl Scout cookie program activities, complete with financial information. The document served as a support to media outreach, and promoted an organization-issued press release highlighting the 90-year evolution of the Girl Scout Cookie Program as a business and economic literacy program for young women. "The Cookie Report is refreshed every year now," Pesich says. "It has become something people understand." 4. Align internal audiences. "Understanding that everyone has to be on board with the same messaging is always a challenge for any organization, corporate or nonprofit," says Maria Kalligeros, executive vice president/consumer practice director of public relations firm CRT/tanaka. The internal piece is critical, she emphasizes. 5. Find assets. Be systematic about investment of all existing assets, Kalligeros says. "Getting the word out there and finding those local stories to help bring messaging to life is really important," she says. 6. Have a plan and be proactive. Confront challenges by getting ahead of the game, Kalligeros says. GSUSA faced criticism from anti-snack activists and a well-publicized call for a national boycott of Girl Scout cookies in 2007. GSUSA, together with CRT/tanaka, responded proactively by notifying the public that their product had zero trans fats last year. The team pushed out the alert early in the campaign, Kalligeros says.

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