Multiple media sources are reporting that the Boy Scouts of America is “exploring all options” in an attempt to address what’s being described
as “serious financial challenges.” In the same reports, the BSA has refused to say whether these issues are related to ongoing sex-abuse litigation.
This PR crisis has been building for the BSA for most of the year. When the reports began to pile up, Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh sent out an open letter to both Scouting member families and the media, expressing his position clearly, point-by-point, hoping to reassure Scouting families and distance the BSA from mounting allegations and rumors of financial distress.
We’re going to look at Surbaugh’s statements and break down the key points of his communication:
“We have an important duty, and an incredible opportunity, to focus as an organization on keeping children safe, supported and protected and preparing youth for their futures through our nation’s foremost program of character development and values-based leadership training.”
Without directly acknowledging any connection between the ongoing sex-abuse scandals and the BSA’s financial woes, Surbaugh delivered a very positive commitment statement addressing the subject on everyone’s mind. Surbaugh then directed his comments toward answering concerns many local Scouting families have about the solvency of the program.
“…we are working with experts to explore all options available to ensure that the local and national programming of the Boy Scout of America continues uninterrupted. We have a social and moral responsibility to fairly compensate victims who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting, and we also have an obligation to carry out our mission to serve youth, families and local communities…”
Surbaugh addresses the BSA’s positions on victims reporting abuse, offering apologies to those who were “harmed” as Scouts. This is the most direct part of the message, and Surbaugh is right to be clear, direct, and unambiguous on this topic. His message is both empathetic and practical, a difficult tightrope to walk, especially with the growing scrutiny and building rumor mill.
What is missing from the message is how the BSA hopes to manage its reported financial struggles, properly compensate victims, and also maintain quality programs across the nation. While the “how” part can certainly come later, and the BSA was right to get out ahead of the narrative, this message should be the first, not the only, communication to an increasingly curious, nervous, and attentive audience.
And they don’t have much time. Membership in the BSA programs is steadily declining, for many reasons. A lingering, unresolved Public Relations crisis is not something the BSA can afford.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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