“You keep it boring, String. You keep it dead f*cking boring.” – Joseph “Prop Joe” Stewart
Gangster’s motto or PR strategy? It’s both: the quote succinctly explains how drug kingpin Stringer Bell avoids attracting too much attention from the cops and how Bill Belichick, coach of football’s incredibly successful New England Patriots, manages to keep his team in the media’s good graces despite several recent run-ins with the Bad News Bears.
In an article titled “Nobody outworks Belichick in the game of media control,” former Patriot and current Sporting News analyst Ross Tucker explains the man’s secret: keep things nice and dull.
Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? For most pigskin squads, news of a top receiver’s indictment for murder and the arrival of Tim “Jesus Is My Homeboy” Tebow would attract more bad press than a Kardashian wedding. Yet the Patriots have so far managed to avoid the fallout from the Aaron Hernandez and Tebow sideshows. According to Tucker, it’s because the team is “uniquely suited to handle the media scrutiny,” and it all comes back to the man in charge and his diligent approach to PR.
Belichick’s first statement on the Hernandez case came at a press conference last week in which he called the occasion “a sad day” and repeatedly answered questions with some variation of “I can’t comment on pending litigation.” Tucker writes:
“…quotes from the players when asked about the Hernandez situation in the coming days will be almost identical because that is what they will be told to say.”
According to the NFL vet, no coach spends as much time telling his players how to deal with the media as this guy. He prepares them for scrutiny by reading his favorite recent press clippings about the team, telling players what sort of questions to expect (with a supposed accuracy rate of 95%), and making sure they all know how to give risk-free answers. This approach doesn’t always make for great journalism, but it does wonders for messaging.
It doesn’t hurt that sports journalists just can’t write enough “slobbering media reviews” of the coach’s begrudging press appearances.
As Tebow settles in and Hernandez prepares for a potential date with O.J. Simpson, we can all learn something from Belichick—keep your post-scandal press conferences drier than wallpaper. Granted, most clients are expected to be a little more…articulate than your average football player, but the model holds up. If you want to minimize bad press, keep the leash as short as possible and make sure your clients’ answers don’t leave any room for debate.