He’s known as “the hoodie.” An underspoken executive of arguably one of the greatest, most celebrated, most reviled sports franchises in history. Notorious not only for his ability to build a resilient team, but for his handling of the necessary evils of public relations that seem to interfere with the business of football. Bill Belichik is no stranger to communicating with a press and public that either loves or loves to hate his product. To look at his communications style, you’d think he was pretty bad at it. But a closer look may give us insights on how to effectively communicate when communication isn’t your primary business.
1. Be brief
Only talk about what you need to talk about. There.
2. Dismiss the dismissible
It’s tough being in the NFL these days. The physical breakdown and mental rigor for players and staff alike notwithstanding, you’ve also got a swirling world of social media and unprecedented access available to fans, press, and regulators to manage. But for all the potential distractions, good or bad, that could come up in a press conference, Belichik’s emphasis remains on the on-field product. He doesn’t get lured into tangential discussions. The laser focus Belichik displays has led the public and the press to wonder whether he has a life outside of football. And if you’re the head of an organization whose product is football, that’s exactly the brand you want.
3. Curb your enthusiasm
With record-setting seasons, enough frost to cover a handful of knuckles, and the envy of the football community, you’d think that Belichik would be all smiles. Heck, you’d think he’d be dressed in gold plated tuxedo, handing out hard candy to reporters at every press conference, and distributing puppies to Boston area schoolchildren. But instead, Belichik simultaneously fascinates and infuriates the public and the press – whether they love him or not – by being stoic about his success. Like a good airline pilot, he instills confidence in his product by acting like he’s been around the cockpit a few times. For every new record set or amazing draft deal pulled off, we don’t see Belichik clicking his heels or rushing to the media to gush about his brilliance. Instead, he takes on the role of statesman and conducts himself as though the stellar news is actually old news because it was part of his master plan all along. And you know what? It might very well be.
4. Let the product speak for itself
The Patriots don’t need to self-promote their football prowess. Their on-field product speaks for itself. Granted, this took years of planning and execution, but the Belichik era isn’t known for marketing football excellence. It’s known for building it. At the core of Belichik’s communication style is a realization that reputations are earned due to results and not to spin. If there’s no need to speak of excellence in your field, then why do it? It’s a catch-22 for smaller firms that don’t have a track record to rely upon and must find a balance between marketing their excellence and simply exhibiting it in execution. The NFL corollary might be a Cleveland Browns team that doesn’t have a stellar reputation or record of results. If such firms place too much focus on marketing their way out of irrelevance, rather than identifying and acting on opportunities to improve their product, they may only prolong an earned reputation of notoriety of a different sort – as a bottom-rung competitor.