Matter Chatter

What PR Pros Can Learn From Bill Belichick

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Bill Belichick is legendary as the coach of the Patriots. What many people don’t give him enough credit for is the way he executes a press conference.

I’ve watched a few Belichick pressers over the years, and the way he goes about his business is almost as impressive as how he coaches. Sure, he speaks in a monotone. Sometimes he makes grunting sounds into the microphone. And you can feel a frosty, uncomfortable tension in the air with how he relates to members of the media.

That said, there are some really good takeaways from Belichick’s media interviews for PR pros.

At the recent NFL draft, the Patriots surprisingly took a quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, in the second round. This set off wild speculation in the media. Does this mean that the Patriots’ current backup QB, Ryan Mallett, is a goner? Is Belichick planning for the future after the eventual retirement of Tom Brady, now 36?

During a May 9 press conference (transcript here), Belichick does a few things well that come right out of the PR interviewing playbook:

Q: Did you have any conversations with Tom Brady about the potential for you drafting a quarterback?

BB: I talk to Tom on a regular basis.

After he gives this answer, about five seconds of silence passes before someone else asks a question. Belichick allows the silence to happen. He didn’t nervously fill it up by explaining his answer further, which could fuel more speculation or leave the door open a crack for more persistent questioning. Belichick does this a lot in his press interviews, and it shows great discipline.

Q: Do you view that situation as similar to 2011 when you drafted Ryan Mallett in the third round and had Brian Hoyer here and you gave him a year to learn before he maybe bumps the next year if that’s how it unfolds?

BB: It could. I don’t know. It could. I don’t have any control over how anything is going to unfurl. We put the players out there and they compete and we evaluate them. I can’t control that.

Here, the reporter was trying to get Belichick to speculate about what may happen in the quarterback competition, using recent history. Belichick doesn’t take the bait. He answers the question as best as he can. He doesn’t give even a nugget of how he thinks the competition might play out, and he doesn’t “over-answer.”

Then, a followup question:

Q: I was asking more about having three quarterbacks.

BB: We’ll do whatever is best for the team. We’ve had four, we’ve had three, we’ve had two. So whatever’s best for the team, that’s what we’ll do. Nothing is set in stone. We’ve had different numbers of guys at different positions. I don’t think there’s any concrete formula. We’ll do what’s best for the team.

Here, Belichick avoids stoking the flames of a QB controversy by sticking to his key “we’ll do what’s best for the team” message (which he says three times). This is how he skillfully takes control over his press conferences, and keeps bridging back to the point he wants to drive home. He doesn’t go into comparing the strengths and weaknesses of his players against each other. I’m sure it’s frustrating to members of the media to not have some hint on the QB pecking order, after Brady. Some coaches will try to curry favor with the press by giving them great sound bites, but Belichick generally avoids this.

Similar to how he prepares for an opponent, Belichick seems to go into his press conferences with a plan of attack for how to answer (or defuse) potential controversies. He does it in a way that doesn’t create headlines and distract his organization from success.

From a PR standpoint, that’s an admirable quality.