30 Jun 2017
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Rebuilding the Girl Scouts Brand

A new focus on leadership will take the century-old organization beyond the world of campfires and cookies
by April White

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Photos by Chris Taggart

Mishka Pitter-Armand (MBA 2003) was never a Girl Scout; but she is a go-getter, an innovator, a risk taker, and a leader. “When you bring those four words together,” Pitter-Armand says, “they form the acronym G.I.R.L.”

In late 2016, Pitter-Armand, head of brand marketing for the Girl Scouts of the USA, helped launch the ambitious G.I.R.L. brand platform to increase public awareness of the hundred-plus-year-old scouting organization beyond those ubiquitous boxes of cookies. When it comes to the Girl Scout brand, Pitter-Armand notes, few people think of leadership first.

“A lot of people know of the Girl Scouts. They know the uniforms or the cookies. Those are great things, but they’re not a true representation of the Girl Scouts as an organization,” Pitter-Armand says. It’s brand relevance that the G.I.R.L. platform is designed to address. “Look at the Girl Scout alumnae: over 90 percent of female astronauts were Girl Scouts; every woman secretary of state; and 75 percent of congresswomen. How do we tell that story?”

Pitter-Armand is bringing the lessons she learned at HBS and in the for-profit sector to that question. After graduating from the School, she spent more than a decade at PepsiCo, for the most part undertaking brand management for well-known products such as Aquafina and Starbucks Bottled Frappuccino.

During her time at the company, she was also tapped to work on a PepsiCo initiative to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. “I had that rare instance where my skill set as a marketer was being called on to meet a greater social need,” Pitter-Armand says. “I’d always enjoyed my work, but now I was waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning with new ideas.” As that project come to its conclusion in 2007, she knew it was time for something new.

Although she had been involved in volunteer efforts in education, the arts, and economic development since high school, Pitter-Armand’s path to a career in the nonprofit sector wasn’t obvious to her. The phrase social enterprise was familiar to her from her time at HBS, but she discovered that it had yet to become part of the business vernacular. And branding wasn’t a top consideration for many nonprofits. “Not everyone understood what I wanted to do,” she recalls.

The nonprofit JDRF International did understand. The 40-plus-year-old organization, long known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, had a brand problem: the disease it addressed was no longer known as juvenile diabetes, as children and adults were being diagnosed in equal numbers. Pitter-Armand was charged with repositioning the newly named organization as a leading research foundation that was seeking treatments for all stages of what is now known as Type 1 diabetes. The task presented the new challenge Pitter-Armand was seeking.

“PepsiCo is a brand-centric organization,” she explains. “There isn’t a decision that isn’t made without first thinking, ‘Is this a benefit to our brand or a negative to our brand?’ At JDRF, when I arrived, brand management and having brand as part of the decision tree was a new practice.”

There is one other big difference between PepsiCo and nonprofits such as JDRF and the Girl Scouts, she says. “In the for-profit environment, you’d say, ‘You know what? We want to go out there and change perceptions. We’re going to invest x millions of dollars in a TV campaign.’” In nonprofits, the monetary resources are limited, Pitter-Armand says, but the potential is not.

In December 2016, the Girls Scouts debuted a new PSA: “I’m Prepared . . . to Lead Like a Girl Scout.” The 30-second spot, with a catchy new anthem by Liz Rose and Emily Shackleton (both Girl Scout alumnae), will air on cable networks in 2017. But Pitter-Armand knows she has an even more powerful network at her disposal for the campaign. There are more than 2.7 million Girl Scouts and troop leaders to help build the G.I.R.L. brand platform and spread the message.

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Class of MBA 2003, Section D
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