Lessons from Tom Brady: Building back your reputation when under siege


I am a die-hard New England Patriots and Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady fan, so the recent events involving Deflategate have been especially hard to endure. 

According to Wikipedia, Deflategate, is the controversy in the National Football League (NFL), stemming from an allegation that the New England Patriots used suspiciously underinflated footballs in the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts on January 18, 2015. New England’s golden boy Tom Brady in under siege, has been labeled a cheater and accused of knowing that Patriots’ equipment personnel deflated footballs below the NFL’s 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch (PSI) standard.  Brady’s Hall of Fame numbers and four Super Bowl rings are tainted as a byproduct of the NFL’s investigation by independent agent Ted Wells.  In the court of public opinion (outside New England), the NFL is right.   So what are Tom Brady and the New England Patriots doing to shore up their tainted brands?  A lot, and it’s worth taking a few cues from the multi-billion-dollar Patriots to rebuild a tarnished brand. The Patriots and Brady are taking a textbook approach to crisis management and have engaged in five sure-fire strategies to change/improve public perception:

Lesson #1: Let someone else do the talking

Whether orchestrated or organic, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have hordes of supporters coming to their defense.  Over the course of the past week, NFLers like Peyton Manning and Colin Kaepernick, old teammates including Vince Wilfork and Kevin Faulk, and even political figures like Chris Christie have defended or minimized Tom Brady’s role in Deflategate.  Brady’s silence is masterful, and he is building peer and public support before speaking his mind.  He’s also creating less of a target for naysayers by remaining silent.

Lesson #2: Leverage all good social media campaigns

New Englanders are loyal and the Patriots are promoting that loyalty on social media.  The campaign “No Brady, No Banner” went viral across popular social media channels.  Facebook and Instagram are brimming with fans and children wearing number 12. And the Patriots are getting into the act as well. The Patriots changed their Twitter and Facebook icons to a photo of Tom Brady in uniform and have retweeted supporting articles from its broadcasters and the National Football League Players Association’s appeal notice.  They are taking the battle to Twitter and Facebook and their 1.34 million and 6 million followers respectively.  The icon switch earned the Patriots more than 215,000 likes alone.  They are battling hard in social media to sway public perception.

Lesson #3: Engage a third-party expert to refute the opposition

The Patriots are angry and are not backing down.  The Patriots hired/lured/enticed the brightest most gifted physicists to refute the NFL claims and create a ray of doubt in the court of public opinion.  While the NFL has one scientist on its side, the Patriots have a number of physicists that can speak to the possibility of footballs naturally deflating in cold weather.  In short, the Patriots are laying a seed of doubt in the NFL’s assertion that weather is not a factor in PSI decrease.

Lesson #4: Create a David vs. Goliath approach

In the first few days of Deflategate, the Patriots were considered the massive franchise that bullies, beats and tortures opponents with its success.  Over the past few days, the Patriots team went on the offensive to paint the NFL as the evil empire intent on destroying a storied little franchise from New England.  Public perception is swaying positively toward the Patriots and more people outside New England are railing against the NFL’s complete power.  Roger Goodell is suddenly the Emperor and fans want to take him down.

Lesson #5: Hire a crackerjack legal team to refute the claims

The Patriots and Brady were prepared for the worst and thus hired an impressive legal team to sit on all meetings with the NFL’s independent investigator Wells and refute his claims.  The Patriots released a manifesto of its own to put all transcripts from the Wells’ report into context.  Suddenly, the Wells report is showing some signs of weakness and the Patriots are behind this 100 percent.  In addition, Brady hired the best lawyer in the country with a proven track record of winning against the NFL.  Time will tell whether this appeal strategy will pay off, but there’s no doubt that Brady plans to fight this suspension with legal muscle.

The Patriots’ and Tom Brady’s brands have taken a major hit, but the rebuilding process has begun.  There’s no judge in the court of public opinion, but it will be interesting to see who comes up on top – Brady and the Patriots or the NFL and Roger Goodell.

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About Marianne Sabella Dempsey

Marianne is a seasoned communications professional with experience that spans both the technology and consumer sectors. At Rainier, Marianne works on accounts in the safety-critical software, predictive analytics, telecommunications, semiconductor and green tech markets. Prior to joining Rainier Communications, Marianne worked at Version 2.0, where she was responsible for both the strategic direction and management of day-to-day implementation of client programs and campaigns for 1E, Blue Prism, Cubiq and Scratch Wireless.

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