Marketing Scouting

Marketing is everywhere…even in Scout troops

Some of you may know that Im involved in Boy Scouts. In fact, Im the Scoutmaster of our local troop here in Columbia Falls.

As you can imagine, it can be a complex job. After all, the boys are from 11 to 18 years old. Lots of things happen to the guys during that time of their lives.

Finding new boys to join the troop is a pretty important task. Why? Kids get older:)

A friend in Washington wrote this how-to document about recruiting boys into Boy Scouts using a presentation at school. As I read through it, marketing techniques leap off the page.

Read Rick’s recruiting presentation plan at, then head back here.

At the very least, you should find scarcity and takeaway selling…but there’s more.

Below, my comments are in bold, Rick’s presentation is in regular text.

The link at the top takes you to a better formatted original of his presentation. It’s an excellent example of the use of marketing and sales fundamentals, as well as some so-called “old school marketing” wisdom such as you might see from Caples and that era.

As you read through here, you’ll see him take a classic path that many ignore. Find a group of ideal prospects (ie: not the entire school, just the subset most inclined to join). Create a message just for them (bears, fire and knives, danger, excitement, camping gear). Use every tool in the arsenal and everything you know about them as you construct your message. FOLLOW UP.

How can your Troop consistently recuit 12-20 sixth graders every year? Try offering a Scouting Presentation in your local school.

Ask a how to question, then give the answer, with perhaps a teaser.

Most importantly, remember that from a boy’s point of view, the “Three Aims” of Scouting are: CAMPING, CAMPING, CAMPING!

As a recruiter, you are not there to talk about the Aims of Scouting beyond providing a reference point for the adults that may have invited you to speak. I usually mention that 1) Scouting was invented to teach citizenship, 2) citizenship is membership in a community, and 3) their “community” will be a Patrol in which they decide where they want to go camping and what they want to eat. When they go camping they will shop together, pitch their tents together, hike, sleep, and explore the wilderness together.

Your entire focus must be to convey the excitement and adventure of GOING CAMPING!

Know your prospect, know what they want, not what they need.

Of equal importance to anything you might say, is a big bag of camping toys. Don’t skimp on this, especially with six graders.

Adjust your message to the segment of the population who will receive it. 6th graders get the camping message. Parents get the leadership, citizenship, etc messages.

Schedule the presentation as early as possible in the school year. After the first academic progress report is mailed home, many parents will begin pulling their sons out of extra-curricular activities. At that point consider scheduling the presentation just before summer vacation with a summer program for your new recruits. Many of them will be unable to attend summer camp on such short notice.

Put yourself in the mind of the prospect. Planning, conflicts, advance notice. None of these will get a kid into your troop. All of them can keep a kid out of your troop.

For the presentation you will need:

Pine Incense: Arrive about an hour early and light some incense right away (mention this to the Principal first). Close the auditorium doors so as not to alert anyone with the smell of smoke.

Artificial Campfire: I use a couple dozen neon “candle flame” bulbs arranged on a teepee of sticks. These neon “flicker” bulbs never burn out. They are easy to find during the Christmas season, but are also available all year in larger lighting departments or specialty stores. A flickering red bulb inside a teepee or log cabin arrangement of sticks will also work (See Council Fire Period). Don’t underestimate the importance of an artificial campfire, some boys always ask if it is a “real campfire.” Years later, some of my older Scouts tell me that their earliest Scouting memory was the smell and look of the artificial campfire in the recruiting ceremony.

Backpacking Tent (free-standing): Set this up on the stage with the campfire (you should be standing down on the floor, a couple feet from the first row).

Back Pack: sleeping bag, backpacking stoves, pump water filters, compass, maps, first aid kit, cool flashlights, camp vest, knife, saw, axe (check school weapons policy first), snow shoes, skis, rock climbing equipment, used rifle targets and shotgun shells from summer camp, etc.

Portable CD Player: find a non-musical environmental sound recording of a forest. Currently, I use the Allegro Corporation’s “Nature’s Rhythms: Peaceful Forest” CD (70 minutes, $4.95).

6-8 Clipboards (one for each row of seats): each with a pen tied to it with string.

Sign-Up Sheets: for each clipboard titled: “YES, I WANT TO GO CAMPING!!!” Include four columns: Boy’s Name, Phone Number, Parent’s Names, and Favorite Camping or Outdoor Skill. Also leave wide margins for special notes when you call each parent. Calling the parents is very important, otherwise all of your other efforts will have been wasted.

Boy Scout Handbook

A Real Canoe (OK, this one is optional).

Troop Information Flyer: Maybe 2% of these will make it home. This is human-nature, or boy-nature anyway. Before you mourn the passing of the “good old days” when boys were more dependable, the Depression-Era Scoutmaster Handbooks reported the same fate of flyers during that era as well and suggested that the cost of mailing information home was worth it.

Troop Activity Uniforms: (We wear our Olive Drab nylon “zip off” cargo pants with a BSA Uniform Shirt–minus the red shoulder loops). Dress like you are ready for High Adventure, NOT a Court of Honor!

The principle of the slight edge, taken very seriously. Almost NO ONE does this sort of thing when they do these presentations. Explicit details on every aspect of the process. Set the expectation, set the mood, then make the pitch. Leave no detail to the imagination, document every step.

The Presentation

Dim the house lights WAY down (to dusk level) before the boys arrive.

Remember what I call the 3 B’s: boys like anything that BITES, BURNS, or BREAKS. Hold up a Scout Handbook and tell them that when “you” (all of them, of course) become a Scout, this will be your “Book of Rules”.

Rules about how to handle bears, rattlesnakes, and white water. How to sharpen your knife, use an ax, rappel down a cliff, and follow a map & compass into the wilderness with a backpack.

How to apply first aid so that you can save the life of someone you know (I hold up the BSA Certificate of Merit that one of our Scouts was presented for saving his Dad’s life with CPR).

Tell a story to involve the prospect.

How to cook a meal over a campfire that you started with a spark tool (I pull out my BSA Hot Spark and strike the steel against the flint rod a couple times, sending sparks into the air. This looks very dramatic in the dim light, and every boy will want to own one. Let them try it after the presentation).

Drama, real or otherwise, makes the story stronger.

I tell them they will all need to buy one of these Hot Sparks, a knife, pack, and clothing for the wilderness (I point to our way-kewl $20 Olive Drab Nylon Zip-Off Cargo Pants, and my polypropylene). Tell them that they will have to learn how to use other tools like LED flashlights, camp stoves, water filters, etc (holding them up).

Forbidden fruit, at least in some areas, suddenly is not only ok, but REQUIRED.

Mention at that point that you have fund-raising events where they can earn the money to buy them.

Snuff a common sales objection. Risk reversal.

Tell them that you camp every month, and that you have weekly meetings to learn the camping skills that they will need at the campout.

Another sales objection – describe what a meeting involves, rather than letting the prospect assume what it involves.

List the trips your PLC has planned, and that the Scouts planed these trips, and that the Scouts run the program.

Ask them then for a show of hands of “who thinks they might want to go camping next weekend?” This is important for using peer-pressure to your advantage.

Social proof. See Cialdini.

At that point my SPL and any additional Scouts answer questions while I circulate the clip boards. Q & A is perfect for young public speakers because they will be able to answer most of the questions from their own experience.

Boys like the role of expert consultant. Even if he has stage fright and can’t get a whole sentence out in front of a crowd at first, there will be another 20 arms staining in the air, desperately trying to ask a question that just can’t wait!

Everyone likes to be the expert, even the 16 year old who wouldnt normally speak to a group this size is proud to talk about what he’s done. People want to talk to others in their shoes, or those who were recently in their shoes. To this prospect, there’s a substantial difference between a 16 year old answering questions and a 46 year old answering those same questions.

The most important part of the process comes next:

That night call all of these parents “to see if they have any questions.” If your presentation went well, the boys will be pestering their parents about joining Scouts and the parents will be glad that you called.

Follow up, follow up, follow up. 1 mailing, meeting or phone call is not enough. Speak with the person who can make the decision.

Surprisingly, even the most motivated boys will have forgotten to give their parents your informational flyer. Often the parent will have to dig through their son’s backpack while they talk to you on the phone.

Understand the behavior of your prospect. Prepare for it in advance and deal with this form of sales objection rather than just accept it. Plug the leaky bucket.

I like to ask about hobbies and interests on the sign-up sheet, so that I can personalize each conversation with their parents. While talking on the phone, I keep notes in the margins of the sign up sheets. Make sure to follow up if they tell you to call back. Don’t give up after investing so much energy in the initial presentation.

Personalization. Make the prospect feel “this is just for me”.

About 20% will “forget” to show up the following night. You may want to call them again if they indicated that they were interested. I have found that with great persistence you can finally get these initial “no-shows” to later meetings. However, those who don’t show up to the first meeting are sometimes the most dysfunctional of my new Scouts. Recently, I have begun asking the boys who did show up as to their opinions about the ones who did not. I trust their judgment as to which of the “no shows” they want in their Patrol.

More follow up. Social proof.

I like to arrange my school presentations for the day before our Troop Meeting, to lessen the time lag between their initial excitement and that important first meeting. You should ask the parents to bring their sons into the first meeting (if possible) to get the application forms, and an “Equipment List for your First Campout.”

Strategic timing for your message.

This list should be designed to get the boys to camp without buying any new equipment, while discouraging the purchase of ANY new camp clothing with cotton content. We do require a closed-cell foam mat ($7) for the first campout if they will be sleeping on the ground.

Train your client, set the expectation, remove objections.

At this first meeting the SPL shows the contents of his pack and explains what they need to bring camping, and how to pack it. I let the new parents watch this, but ask them to hold their questions for an adult Q&A session while the Scouts go to the gym. This gym session can be very important if you are watching for natural “Patrols” to form in the choosing up of teams.

It doesn’t hurt to explain to parents what Scouting is. I usually say that Scouting is training in citizenship on a natural small Patrol level. The team faces natural hardships like bears, snakes, weather, and the power of white water in small groups that offer each other support to the extent to which they can depend on each other to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, trustworthy, etc.

Manage expectations.

The second week’s meeting is a shakedown in which the new Scouts are signed off on Requirement #1 in their new Scout Handbooks. That weekend, they are in the woods.

I like to include the Scout Handbook the joining fee so that the requirements can be signed off on this first campout.

Sometimes we just go fishing or hiking. In the past we have also offered a round-robin “Tenderfoot Campout” in which many of the Tenderfoot Requirements can be earned in a single weekend. Have your best Scouts work with only a few boys at a time, so that each new Scout gets individual attention and doesnâ??t get bored or lonely. Keep the groups moving on to a new instructor at least every 20 minutes.

Also make sure that the PLC sets aside enough time for exploring the camp. Try a wide game on Saturday night.

After setting the expectation, control the experience to make sure it is positive. Leave the client wanting more.

They will leave exhausted on Sunday but with a bunch of new skills. A few Scouts may quit at that point (more so if it rained–it doesn’t hurt to rent a cabin for this critical campout at the last minute in case of bad weather), but the ones who stay sure like to go camping!

Not every prospect is a sale. Low hanging fruit.

On Peer-Pressure & Being Cool

The biggest myth of Scouting is that “modern” boys would rather play video games than to camping. Others tell me that peer-pressure works against the values of Scouting so that boys won’t join Scouting because it isn’t cool.

Don’t try to understand peer-pressure. Concentrate instead on knocking them off-balance!

Handling sales objections. Knowing the behavior and mindset of the prospect. Ignoring commonly-held beliefs and industry norms.

I try to convey the hint that Scouting might just be too dangerous for some sixth-grade boys.

Takeaway selling.

Shamelessly confuse and ensnare their senses:

Smell: the pine incense (suggested above) evokes this appealing but often subliminal aspect of camping.

Hearing: the audio CD of forest sounds is literally the call of the wild.

Sight: dimming the lights intensifies these non-visual cues, and the power of your spoken word on their imaginations. Lowered light levels also make the effect of the artificial campfire and the striking of the spark-tool more dramatic. I can’t overemphasize the importance of these two trivial-sounding items — the attraction of boys to fire is beyond any accounting. The same is true for the display of camping equipment, they say “Boys love their toys,” but all human males have an uncontrollable genetic attraction to tools.

Touch: be sure to allow enough time for them to try out your spark tools after the presentation.

Taste: I have toyed with the idea of offering some kind of camping food, such as home-made jerky. Cooking in the woods is surprisingly attractive to boys, so be sure to at least mention it as you point out the camping equipment you set up on the stage.

Most importantly, to shatter peer-pressure emphasize anything dangerous and forbidden: bears, rattlesnakes, knives, axes, matches, gas stoves, white water canoeing, repelling off cliffs, and primitive camping as an encounter with natural forces beyond our control.

Handling objections. Controlling the experience. Understanding the psychographic traits of your clientèle.

Be sure to mention any local Scouts who saved a life: all boys dream of being a hero. In this light potential recruits can see instruction in first aid and life-saving as the essential training they need to be a man.

The primal drive to grow strong and to be the master of any situation is the desire for certainty and confidence, the very root of peer-pressure itself.

If you recruit boys who love camping, the other Methods of Scouting will magically fit into place.

The Outdoors is the primary attraction, never forget that.

Get inside the head of your prospect. Touch the wants.

3 replies on “Marketing is everywhere…even in Scout troops”

I enjoyed your posting.
You made some great points.
Hoss SDE
Brahman Disrtict SHAC-BSA

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