Lessons Bill Belichick Can Teach Us About Public Affairs

Love them or hate them, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots know how to win!  

#1 Do Your Job

“Do Your Job,” the Patriots motto. They even have a “Do Your Job” team store. The Patriots are famous for their ability to turn a player whose performance has suffered from on- or off-field distractions into a key contributor by coaching him to focus on what’s important. 

 It’s easy in Public Affairs to let distractions steer you off course. The temptation to get caught up in electoral or even office politics is always there. Doing your job means focusing on the end result and not allowing distractions to divert you from that goal. Teams and public affairs shops who allow what other people, internally or externally, are doing (or not doing) influence their actions risk losing the end game. 

 If everyone in your team sticks to their designated task, does their job and keeps the end goal in mind, the pieces will come together for the win.   

 Winning public affairs pros know the key to winning is to always keep focus on the all-important final result. Amateurs who skip steps, get diverted by unimportant minutiae or focus on winning little battles inevitably lose the most important battle on election day.  

#2 We’re on to Cincinnati  

Belichick famously repeated the line “We’re on to Cincinnati” five times at a news conference following the 41-14 blow-out loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at the start of the 2014 season. The Patriots were a disappointing 2-2 at the time. Reporters, and some fans were publicly questioning whether the era of Belichick/Brady success in New England was over. 

The coach knew nothing positive would come from answering the reporter’s negative questions. He, maybe a little inelegantly, used a technique that my friend and acclaimed media trainer Beverly Hallberg of the District Media Group teaches, called “Block and Bridge.” 

 “Block and Bridge” is a highly-effective tool you can use to acknowledge a media question about a negative then transition away from that negative to the positive message you wish to talk about. 

 When faced with a difficult question from the media, phrases such as “that’s a good question,” “that’s interesting, however,” “the more important issue is,” or “We’re on to Cincinnati,” help you shift the focus of the interview from the past to the future and allow you to regain control of the conversation.   

#3 Special Teams

Bill Belichick began his NFL coaching career as special teams coach for the New York Giants. That legacy now carries over to the Patriots who are noted for their investment in special teams both in terms of dollars (Patriots Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is one the best-paid kickers in football) and in the amount of time and effort put into their development and practice.   

 Belichick’s emphasis on building unbeatable special teams is critical to the Patriots success. How can this lesson apply to your public affairs shop? 

Just as a champion football team would never expect a quarterback to excel at passing and at punting… a champion public affairs team will never imagine they can excel at all of the many pieces of a winning public affairs strategy.   

To consistently win, take time to recognize your strengths and weaknesses then identify and partner with the special teams who compliment you – Third-Party Advocacy Groups, Coalition Builders, Grassroots organizers, Digital and Social Media pros, PAC or fundraising experts all have skills that can help elevate you and your team from the playoffs to the championship of public opinion. 

#4 Respect Your Competition

 Coach Belichick always respects his competition. He evaluates the strengths of next week’s opponent and coaches to those strengths – never assuming an ‘easy’ win. He emphasizes to his staff and his team the importance of never underestimating your opposition, no matter where they stand in the rankings.  

 An upset win in sports or in politics is almost always due to the overwhelming favorite underestimating their opponent. You need to look no further than the highly-qualified Hilary Clinton campaign advisors who underestimated their opponents in both 2008 Primary and the 2016 General Election.   

In 2008, the Clinton campaign assumed the nomination was in the bag and didn’t start campaigning until it was too late. In 2016 the campaign’s decision not to campaign in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin most likely lost those states and the Electoral College. The campaign assumed these states were safe and scoffed at the thought they could lose there. In both cases, the underdog won. 

Respect your competition. Never assume you have won your election or issues campaign until the last vote is counted and never stop campaigning until that last vote is cast.  



#5 Play the Long Game


Bill Belichick is acclaimed for his 17 years coaching the New England Patriots to unprecedented success. This success was built around a coaching team. These coaching partners, many of whom were recruited and nurtured by Belichick, have worked for him for most of his tenure at the Patriots. When a lieutenant does leave, Belichick almost universally promotes from within. On the rare occasion, the team recruits a coach from outside the Patriots organization, it is likely someone Belichick has worked with in the past. The coach is playing the long game. He knows that his coaching partners share the same ethos of hard work and integrity. 

The best public affairs pro’s I know play a similar long game. They know the key to building a winning team is to recruit and nurture talent. They know that creating a team of partners who share their long-term goals will set them up for future success. A hard-working, focused team will deliver the results their clients desire.  

Doing your job and completing the task at hand is important in the short term. Your long game - your experience, integrity, and work ethic is just as important. That’s what stays with you from job to job or client to client.   

Whether you are the leader of a public affairs team, an established member of a team or a new-comer, play the long game.  

Chaz Cirame is the Founder of Cc: External Affairs Inc. 

Cc: External Affairs, Inc. – helps corporations, trade associations, public affairs firms and non-profits develop long-term partnerships to reach and exceed their goals - be they shaping public opinion, achieving legislative outcomes, or building lasting strategic alliances.  

The "No Carcass Rule" and 4 Other Easy Steps to Boost Networking at Your Next Event

1/ Don’t call it a networking event. Self-labeled networking events are often, quite literally, the worst. Filled with desperate job seekers, seeking in all the wrong places, and bad salespeople simultaneously talking past each other, even the cocktails can’t save this three-hour tour. There’s also a bias against the term “networking”, undoubtedly earned by bad actors who only network for their own self-interest and are always searching for the more important person in the room. Instead of a networking event, choose a more inviting alternative that makes the event sound fun (which, it should be, but we’ll get there). Happy Hour, Get Together or Meet and Greet all work better because they hint at new friends and a good time. Making this the first goal of the evening lowers pressure and expectations. The rest is possible bonus-icing on the cake.

2/ The No Carcass Rule- When ordering appetizers, don’t order food that involves a leave-behind in guests’ hands. No spoons, bowls, plates, bones or skewers.  Lamb shank is delicious, but after a couple of bites, you look more like Fred Flinstone than someone’s next star hire. This great tip comes from my friend Daniel Erspamer, President of The Pelican Institute in New Orleans—leave it to someone from New Orleans to have great advice on how to throw a party.   

3/ Name Tags- Seems like a no-brainer, but I regularly go to events intended for networking and the host fails to provide name tags for their guests. My preferred name tag has first names in large type and last name and company slightly smaller. This tends to encourage attendees to drop formalities and introduce each other by first names, especially important when encouraging networking among high-ranking corporate officers or elected officials. And remember, bring along a few blanks and a black marker, just in case.

4/ Be a host. When you host a cocktail party in your home, you want people to feel welcome as they arrive. Bring this instinct along to your next event. If it is your organization hosting the event, make sure your staff is all tasked with making guests feel welcome, encouraging conversation, facilitating introductions etc.

5/ Use your resources wisely. As with so many things in life, simplicity is key. A staff of five shouldn’t be stretched out to cover every detail – they’re most valuable to the success of the event as hosts. They know the players and the connections that should be made in this crowd. Let that be their focus. Checking people in is a great job for volunteers or temporary paid help. Low on bodies? I have had great success with Task Rabbit-the link includes a $20 coupon when you sign up.  Taskers, as they are called, can also be hired to tend bar, make sure guest drinks are filled and tidy up during/after the event


You've Got Influence! Does having a @aol.com address make you more likely to be an influencer?

Last week USA Today’s Paul Signer wrote about an odd outlier that was discovered when the digital marketing firm Fluent conducted online campaign fundraising research.  

“A January study by digital marketing firm Fluent concluded that only 4% of subscribers to political email lists had AOL.com email addresses, while 48% of subscribers had Gmail accounts. But those AOL users accounted for 22% of total donations during the study period — November and December 2015 — with an average donation of $159. Gmail users accounted for only 13% of donations with an average gift of $31,” Signer said.  The Fluent study can be found here

In 2011, Politico’s Ben Smith wrote about the aol.com email address being a status symbol.  The article highlighted some of the nation’s most influential politicos and media types that use AOL.

Including at the time: “POLITICS: David Axelrod, Jim Messina, John Weaver, Joe Trippi, Mandy Grunwald, Dick Morris (a recent defector to gmail), Frank Luntz, Ed Rollins, Guy Cecil, Al Franken, Aaron Schock. 

MEDIA: Matt Drudge, Arianna Huffington (who was holding onto an AOL account long before AOL bought her company), David Brooks, David Corn, Robert Draper, Rick Perlstein, Ann Coulter, Tina Brown, Lawrence O'Donnell.”

From a personal review of my contacts, I can say that the 79 with aol.com email addresses outweigh the influence of any other randomly-selected segment of my contacts.  Included in the 79 are a former gubernatorial candidate, foundation executives, non-profit executives, several heads of government relations, a number of current and former state legislators, and a state cabinet head. 

There are some likely reasons for this.  For example, these individuals likely established this email address 20 years ago or more.  This already means that they are at least in their mid-to-late 30’s.  Usually they are even older because the fact that they are still using this account means that they were resistant to change when new and better email services emerged.  Often this was because they were already doing significant business on their account.  As a result, usually you will find that these individuals are mostly in their 40s-60s, which means that they are in the prime age bracket for professional influence.     

Also, they didn’t succumb to peer pressure to change their emails when AOL’s hipness ultimately succumbed to other email players like hotmail, yahoo, and than Gmail.  They were at a point in their career where they weren’t concerned when articles like Is Your Email Address Preventing You from Getting the Job You Want? started popping up. 

So next time you hear you’ve got mail and see an email from a @aol.com -you might just want to read it, it could be from someone very important.  

Chaz Cirame is the Founder of Cc: External Affairs, Inc. 

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Cc: External Affairs, Inc. – helps corporations, trade associations, public affairs firms and non-profits develop long-term partnerships to reach and exceed their goals - be they shaping public opinion, achieving legislative outcomes, or building lasting strategic alliances.  



Setting and Achieving Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Setting and Achieving Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Setting big goals is important - it is how we accomplish big things.  Setting Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs), as Jim Collins first called them in his bestselling book Good to Great, is one of the ways exceptional or “great” individuals and organizations differentiate themselves from the "good" ones. 

Setting big goals is especially helpful because the process of achieving them will, in and of itself, make you and/or your organization better.  BHAGs force you to focus, prioritize, work as a team, and aim higher than ever before.  

10 Things to Do Before a Crisis


“I'm not a coward, I've just never been tested. I'd like to think that if I was I would pass.”   

"The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite songs.  When I heard it for the first time in 1997, I surely hadn’t ever been tested.   Today, nearly 20 years later, I have been tested a few times personally and professionally.   

If you have the weight of a business, non-profit, or trade association on your shoulders, you need to be prepared to be tested with a crisis event.  You are likely to face one in one way or another at some point in your career.  You owe it to your colleagues, members, board of directors, customers, donors, supporters etc. to be prepared.    

These are the 10 steps I have learned by being tested with significant professional crises.  Taking the steps below BEFORE the crisis hits will prepare you to deal with that crisis when it ultimately does hit…and if you never have to (knock on wood) experience such a crisis, preparing for it will still prepare you for greater success.       

  1. Fix your known problems. Every company, non-profit and trade association I have ever worked with has had known problems that they chose not to address-some have had many. As big or small as these problems seem on a normal day, they become huge obstacles when you are in a crisis, so don’t wait another moment.  Carpe diem and fix them now. 
  2. Do a SWOT Analysis. If you aren’t familiar with SWOT analysis, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  It is where you take a hard look at your organization and look at it with a critical and forward-thinking eye.  You can pay consultants to help with this and it can be a good idea to have an outside facilitator to take this on.  However, if that prevents or delays you from doing it now, go ahead and do it internally.    
  3. Tell your story. One of the most challenging things to do in a crisis is to define yourself.  Once the Fiasco vortex (as Crisis Communications Guru Eric Dezenhall calls it) starts it is virtually impossible to establish or reestablish the narrative.  Tell your story over and over again.  Know that when you are completely and totally sick of saying it, it is just beginning to set in for external audiences.  Having a solid foundation will give you a head start when others try to redefine you in a negative light.
  4. Invest in your allies and supporters. Do your supporters know your story? Do you have clear and successful channels of communication with them that you can activate in time of crisis?  As part of the Cc: External Affairs Allies Audit system we ask identified existing allies to explain your mission and what you do.  The first round of results you will often find to be disturbingly bad.  Keep refining your message and communications channels until your allies can tell your story just like you would. 
  5. Know thy enemies. No matter what the crisis is there are likely people who want you to fail.  Many of these people actually stand to benefit (via publicity or financially or both).  Do a comprehensive audit of the people with a vested interest in your failure and determine which ones are likely to add fuel to the fire.  These enemies may be  competitors, ideological adversaries or a media working to satiate the public’s demand for justice. Develop a plan to mitigate their success.    
  6. Count on Murphy’s law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Crises never come at a good time and they often come at the worst time.  Plan on this and plan on redundant systems to get you through when the first system/technology/ human resource fails for one reason or another.  Also factor Murphy’s law into your planning for the future.  While this year maybe the most successful you have ever had, a crisis maybe just around the corner.  Plan for success, budget for failure. 
  7. Proactively build relationships with the media. Reach out to media covering you today on a regular basis.  Make sure they are one of your first calls when trouble arises. Also reach out to the media that would likely cover you when things get turned up a notch.  If you take the time to establish relationships, you can hopefully garner some good, or at least fair, press during a crisis.
  8. Develop a clear chain of command/decision making. Crises require decisive decision making and a lot of it.  You will be overwhelmed by how much good, bad, and outright terrible advice everyone offers you.  Developing a decision-making matrix and clear chain of command will help push the good advice to the top and the bad advice to the wayside.   While committees, stakeholders and staff input are vitally important, there needs to be a leader that turns the ideas into action.      
  9. Identify a spokesperson you trust and invest in media training to prepare for a crisis. You think you are media trained because you have been on TV a couple of times or done some friendly interviews.  However, a crisis inevitably skyrockets you to the front lines of adversarial media and dealing with an opponent in the press requires entirely different approaches, strategies, and skill sets.  Identify a spokesperson you can put your organizational trust in who can put your best foot forward.  Make sure to get them top-notch media training so they ready to handle adversarial media. 
  10. Test your rapid response system. Pick an upcoming initiative to stress test your crisis communications channels.  How quickly can you respond?  How quickly can you communicate your important message to activate members, customers, allies?   Do an after-action report and review to identify your weak spots.   

These steps are easy to skip when you get caught up in the day-to-day of running your organization.  It’s easy to lose sight of the important work of preparing for a crisis.  However, a crisis can derail all of your previous good work if you aren’t prepared.  

Hopefully, you’ll never need them in a crisis. Even if you don’t, they’ll make your organization stronger and your staff better prepared to taken on whatever challenges the world does throw at them.   

Chaz Cirame is the Founder of Cc: External Affairs, Inc. 

Cc: External Affairs, Inc. – helps corporations, trade associations, public affairs firms and non-profits develop long-term partnerships to reach and exceed their goals - be they shaping public opinion, achieving legislative outcomes, or building lasting strategic alliances.