Girl Scouts of the USA, New York, NY: PR Innovation

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Company: Girl Scouts of the USA, New York, NY
Company Description: GSUSA is a nonprofit committed to developing girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.
Nomination Category: Corporate Communications, Investor Relations, & Public Relations Categories
Nomination Sub Category: PR Innovation of the Year

Nomination Title: Girl Scouts Adds a ‘Byte’ to Its Iconic Cookie Program

Tell the story about this nominated communications innovation since January 1, 2014 (up to 650 words). Describe how the innovation was discovered, developed, refined and/or deployed. Provide an assessment of how the innovation has impacted or will impact your organization, your clients, your industry, markets or/or society.

In 2014, Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) launched “Digital Cookie,” a groundbreaking addition to its iconic cookie program, adding a digital layer that teaches girls vital ecommerce skills for the modern economy. It lets girls market cookies, process payments, and place shipment orders digitally through a national digital platform for first time in the history of the Cookie Program.
Communicating Digital Cookie posed many challenges, including telling one consistent story across 112 local markets, addressing council participation in the first year of the initiative, ensuring media coverage reflected Digital Cookie as an expansion of the cookie program and not a replacement, informing the public that the launch of Digital Cookie was an initial phase of a program that will progress over time, and communicating a new program that was still in development at the time of planning. As part of an innovative approach, GSUSA decided to step outside of its traditional communications comfort zone and gamble on having young girls deliver the Digital Cookie story to media.

This innovation, tying back to the organization’s girl-led and girl-driven mission, shined the light on the incredible young women Girl Scouts has developed into leaders for over a century. The approach leveraged the skills of Girl Scouts who, through their excitement and experience, effectively told the Girl Scout story to the world– a first for the organization. GSUSA also executed and enforced a first-time movement-wide media embargo (regardless of major resistance) without a single leak, despite the thousands of people who were aware of the story.

Dealing with a tight budget, GSUSA furthered the media strategy innovation by deciding to limit outreach to a select handful of top-tier, wide-reaching media rather than going wide with the story. By working with closely with this press, GSUSA believed we could better control the story, and drive future coverage based on pickup from these well-informed stories. Preparation included drafting a national press release, creating talking points for GSUSA leadership, and assembling local press kits for councils. In addition, GSUSA engaged in extensive media training of GSUSA Digital Cookie teams and the girls who would deliver the Digital Cookie message through their own experiences, positioning the initiative as a fun and revolutionary way for girls to learn modern entrepreneurism. The launch strategy culminated with Girl Scouts showcasing Digital Cookie to the tech world at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – again, putting the girls in the driver’s seat, leading engagement with both consumers and press at the event.

The embargo lifted at 10 p.m. on November 31, and GSUSA secured substantial pickup across platforms. GSUSA measured earned media coverage from The New York Times, USA Today, ABC News, Good Morning America, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Fast Company, Mashable, and Entrepreneur, just to start. To date, Digital Cookie has received nearly 4 billion unique local and national media impressions. The strategy of allowing girls to tell the Digital Cookie story was hugely successful; nearly 70% of the coverage included messaging around the girl-centric aspect and what girls learn through Digital Cookie.

The coverage GSUSA secured, turned Digital Cookie into a pop-culture phenomenon, trending #1 on Facebook and receiving coverage on Saturday Night Live and NYC Taxi Jeopardy. In addition to securing mentions on all morning news shows and virtually all major national publications, Girl Scouts was deemed “Brand of the Day” by ADWEEK, and Fast Company ranked us among the World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 in Not-for-Profit. Digital Cookie drove a record 5 million people to GSUSA’s website, and 11 million Girl Scout Cookie–related page views. GSUSA secured additional accolades at CES, where TIME and The New York Times ranked Girl Scouts as the most unlikely yet most important brand on site. The Wall Street Journal deemed Digital Cookie the one item from CES 2015 “that will change our lives or habits forever.”

In bullet-list form, briefly summarize up to 10 (ten) of the chief characteristics and benefits of the nominated innovation (up to 150 words).

• Rebooting an iconic program is not easy. The innovative approach to retooling a nearly 100 year old program demonstrates that it can be done successfully through careful planning and communications across constituency groups.
• Vastly surpassed the impression goal, while demonstrating that effective communications can lead directly to sales increase.
• Demonstrates effective use and enforcement of an embargo across a national organization with over 100 separate entities, and proves that leaks are not inevitable.
• Challenges: differentiating between two platforms; addressing not every local council participating in the first year; ensuring media coverage reflected as an expansion of the cookie program, not a replacement; that the launch of Digital Cookie was an initial phase of program; enforcing a Movement-wide embargo to ensure control of the story and the nature of the coverage, and; communicating a new program that was still in development at the time of planning.