In the past six days, headlines have heralded the downfall of Lance Armstrong and our presidential candidates’ heated debates. Yet it’s shocking that one news item gained only brief attention, especially given its name: The Boy Scouts of America Perversion Files.
That was the actual internal name for files kept on Scout volunteers who were accused of child sex abuse. The files date from 1965 to 1985 and number 1,247 “ineligible volunteers” – who were merely banned from further service. “In certain cases,” admits a Boy Scout statement, “our response to these incidents and our effort to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong.” Bizarrely, the group only enacted a policy of contacting authorities in 2011, well after the scandal of the Catholic Church had entered national consciousness.
Charges are likely to be pressed and the headlines will inevitably resurface, but for the moment the Boy Scouts are out of the media firing line. The Scouts played their PR card well. Acknowledge the problem, apologize, then apologize again. Next, point to reforms (however late in the day) and assert that management has changed, at which point the news story might have a short shelf life and be on its way to disappearing. The Vatican may want to take notes.
The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for The Boy Scouts of America. It’s uncomfortable for us to give a high grade given the circumstances, but the Scouts followed the PR handbook and, in so doing, neatly side-stepped the media spotlight.
The PR Takeaway: PR won’t make a crisis go away, but it can shorten its life span. From a PR perspective, the most striking point is how the Boy Scouts handled this issue versus the Catholic church. The Boy Scouts made it clear that these were largely accurate and truthful files and conceded the error of not bringing in the authorities. Though grave implications remain for the victims, the long-term PR impact on the Scouts already seems less substantive than what happened to the Catholic clergy faced with similar circumstances. Does it simply come down to effective PR?
What should The Boy Scouts of America do now to save their reputation? Give us your PR Verdict!