You can hate the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick all you want. If you’re outside of New England, that’s probably the case. But the one thing you can’t do is deny the fact that Belichick and the Patriots routinely deliver a master class in reputation and brand management.
Some people say it’s easy to maintain a stellar reputation when you’ve won five championships in 16 seasons, but it’s more complicated than that.
The Patriots have endured SpyGate, DeflateGate, Aaron Hernandez’s murder trial, loss of draft picks, Tom Brady’s suspension, and of course the looming question of whether or not Belichick, Brady, and owner Robert Kraft voted for Donald Trump. The Patriots are arguably the most controversial team in the NFL, yet in a world where controversy tears apart locker rooms and sinks organizations, they remain above the fray, focused on performance and staying on message.
So how do they do it?
They control the message
In 2014, when Tom Brady looked mortal after an opening day defeat to the Miami Dolphins and a brutal loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, pundits were howling about Belichick’s demise, Brady’s decline, and the end of the era of Patriots domination. How did Belichick react? “We’re on to Cincinnati.” He repeated those four words over and over and over again and obstinately refused to fan the flames, because he was confident in his ability to right the ship and content to let his team’s play speak for itself. A few wins later, that sentence morphed into a marketing messaging and a rallying cry that led them to a Super Bowl win.
They let their ambassadors fight their battles
If you’ve ever argued sports online and come across Patriots fans, you already know they’re some of the most loyal, opinionated, and fierce fans in the game. The Patriots as an organization are notoriously tight-lipped about everything, so how do they get their message across? They craft messaging and release it on their own social media channels, and then let their fans do the heavy lifting. Say something negative about Tom Brady and watch Patriots fans descend to defend their anointed GOAT (Greatest of All Time) quarterback with a vengeance. This kind of brand loyalty is worth its weight in gold and allows the players, coaches, and owners to stay on the high road.
They stay consistent
The Patriots win a lot, and much of that has to do with how consistent they are as an organization. They’ve had the same head coach, quarterback, and owner in place for 16 years and their system works. No players step out of line on social media. They perform their contractually obligated media responsibilities and very little beyond that. They never give away extraneous information or provide opponents bulletin board material. If you’ve seen one Bill Belichick press conference, you’ve seen them all (“We need to be effective in all three phases of the game and need to be play better, coach better, execute better. We’re on to [insert name of next opponent]”) and while his message is often boring, it’s also a winning formula from which he feels no need to deviate.
Belichick has created a system in New England based on the belief that the team is greater than the individual and if every player masters his job, success will follow. “Do your job” became a symbolic phrase to represent The Patriot Way, and it’s a big reason they were able to overcome a 25-point deficit during the second half of the Super Bowl. It’s the same rationale that makes the organization a paragon of success in maintaining its brand and preserving its reputation despite setbacks that would have permanently damaged other clubs.
If you control your own message, cultivate loyal brand enthusiasts to serve as public evangelists and stay on message even through crises, you can be just as successful as the 2016 Super Bowl champions.