The Boy Scouts of America has postponed its decision on permitting gay boys and scout leaders into the ranks, undoubtedly bowing to pressure from the very conservative base of organizations that have traditionally sponsored scout troops across the country. No doubt looking to the Episcopal Church’s example, scouting leadership is terrified of splinter scouting organizations. While the Church of Latter Day Saints has kept mum on the subject, BSA leaders are fearful that splintering is inevitable if any policy change is made.
When I earned my Eagle Scout award in 1988, I was damn proud. I am no longer proud. Despite our local council’s rather liberal stance on the issue, I’ve distanced myself from Scouting since my college years. I believe that permitting homosexual Scouts and Scouters (the term for adult leaders) does not run contrary to the Scout Oath. I am certainly not alone — Eagle Scout award recipients have been handing in their badges in droves to protest the organizations stance. Yet the organization holds to its outdated principles. Why? Two simple reasons: money and hubris. Let’s tackle hubris first. Example number one? Apple.
Apple’s Roughshod Approach to PR
Apple has traditionally taken a “my way or the highway” approach to media relations. Major announcements were made at major events, to which only Apple loyalists were invited. Write a bad review? Misbehave at an event? You’re off the list — thank you, don’t come again. But Apple’s “command and control” approach to public relations has shown some kinks in the armor — even Apple couldn’t prevent an engineer from leaving an iPhone prototype behind at a bar.
Apple is continuously held up as the prototypical great marketer, and I wouldn’t disagree. But just because Apple’s a great marketer doesn’t mean it’s a great communicator. Don’t confuse the two. Apple is a great marketer in large part because it makes products that market themselves. To be blunt, you don’t need to be a genius to market Apple products. But maybe I need to change the tense a little, as even Apple seems to be realizing it needs to change how it thinks. As Patrick Coffee reports in PR Newser:
For a long time, it seemed like Steve Jobs and the team at Apple saw traditional PR approaches and tools like press releases as ancient relics. They were over it.
Things are different now, though. The Wall Street Journal tells us that, in the light of recent stock dips and disappointing sales numbers, Apple has decided to “subtly [increase] some of its PR—at least for now.”
What does that mean? Well, the team issued an honest-to-God press release to mark the all-but-meaningless evolution of its operating system from iOS 6 to iOS 6.1–and this was “the first time Apple has issued an official press release for a non-major mobile software” roll-out since way back in 2010.
It seems that the blinding light of poor stock performance has identified a few holes in Apple’s communications strategy. Can the blinding light of public opinion change Scouting?
Scouting’s “Come to Jesus” Moment
I shared my thoughts about the state of Scouting with my business partner Chuck Tanowitz, and he talked about his experience with Scouting growing up Jewish in New York. Finding a scout troop where a young Jewish boy can fit in isn’t easy, even in and around New York City. Chuck made a wonderful point during our discussion: that the Boy Scouts need to realize that they need boys (be they straight, white, gay, Jewish or Muslim) more than the boys need them. Chuck found alternatives, and so do many other boys.
Scouting is facing a true existential crisis, and while they definitely shouldn’t dive in head first without testing the waters (oh, speaking of testing the waters, plenty of religious institutions have come out in support of gays in Scouting, including the National Jewish Committee on Scouting), they need to completely re-think not only their core policies, but also their communication strategies if they are to remain relevant in the 21st Century.
Advice for the Boy Scouts, Lessons for Communicators
The Boy Scouts of America have come across as backwards, disorganized and reactive as they’ve struggled through these past few years. Gentlemen, you have until May, but if you need longer, say so now! Get your act together. Do not get hung up on politics, procedures and principles with no regard to serving your community or surviving. Put a crisis plan in place. Set deadlines and stick to them. Understand that this is a divisive issue, and be willing to accept the consequences, however dire. But equally, understand that inaction sends just as much of a message as acts of consequence do. As I learned in COM 100, you cannot not communicate, and right now, you’re speaking volumes.