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.