When I say “New England Patriots,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it Bill Belichick? Is it Tom Brady? Is it “Do Your Job”? Or is it “The Patriot Way”? All of these would be acceptable answers as each has contributed in some way, shape, or form to making the Patriots the most successful American professional sports franchise of my lifetime and all of them are critical parts of the Patriots’ brand identity.

Photo via Flickr/SAB0TEUR

The Patriots have built the most dominant franchise in the NFL because they do things a specific way and do an excellent job of telling that story. Every Patriot says the same things to the media – staying “on brand” – and the stories that are told throughout every televised Patriots game are based on fundamentally Belichickian phrases such as “Do Your Job”, “complimentary football”, and Belichick’s control of the franchise from matters as large as personnel to as small as how a cornerback will cover a smash route combination.

The Patriots have won the branding war with the public and whether you’re a fan of the team or not (I am), everyone can describe the Patriots in one word just as I asked you to at the beginning of this post.

Just like NFL teams, each Independent School has a brand that they want to push in order to attract prospective families, delight current families, and engage alumni. So what can we learn from the Patriots?

Be Consistent

The Patriots have had the luxury of leaning on the same head coach and quarterback for the last 16 years, but beyond those two key figures, every other facet of the organization has changed in some way since they won their first Super Bowl in 2002. Through all of this change, however, the Patriots have extolled the virtues of acquiring the right players for the job over the most talented player and doing things the right way. Those two tenets have guided their decision-making since 2002, which is why it is no surprise when they turn a receiver who was cut by five teams and played lacrosse in college into the franchise’s record-holder for yards in a playoff game.

In an Independent School context, this means that the day-to-day experience needs to match your messaging and storytelling. If your viewbook and marketing materials do not match the “word on the street” or the experience of your students, your brand loses its authority. Cut to the heart of your school’s brand and tell stories that will be a part of each child’s experience at your school.

Keep it Simple

The Patriots are a no-frills organization and that comes through in their messaging. Save the occasional Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots players keep to themselves, do their job, and say all the right things so they can focus on the franchise’s most important goal: Winning. The Patriots have “Do Your Job”, the Oakland Raiders had “Just Win Baby”, and the Dallas Cowboys have “America’s Team.” All three cut to the core of the brand – Professionalism, Attitude, Popularity; respectively – and all are incredibly easy to remember.

At Rivers, “Excellence with Humanity” is the foundation of our brand and speaks to the rigor and prestige of the program without leaving behind the school’s history of strong relationships. Milton Academy’s “Dare to be True” motto is reflected in their program and speaks to their mission to encourage students to be confident in their individual perspective and share it with the world. Both are easy to understand and conjure images that appeal to both prospective families and alumni.

[Click here to read about how your brand can inspire your storytelling]

Never Stop Innovating

The Patriots won their first three Super Bowls in the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons on the strength of its defense and running game. In 2007, they set records behind one of the best offenses in NFL history. In 2013, they rebounded from an early season loss and relied on veteran leadership to win the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion. This year, the Patriots had the No. 1 scoring defense and No. 3 scoring offense, striking a balance they hadn’t ever achieved during the Brady-Belichick era. The Patriots constantly find new ways to be the best, but never forsake the tenets upon which that success is built.

Technology has given us more tools than ever before to tell the story of our schools. The written word still carries weight in delivering the messaging, but videos and photos and podcasts and social media and blogs have changed the way in which we go about presenting it. A 20-minute podcast with the College Counselor about what makes a strong college essay or a 2-minute video of the Athletic Director talking about the department’s philosophy on coaching will appeal to people who may not want to read your 800-word (and counting!) article. Vary your approach and you will find you are engaging more people.


That’s it! I hope you have found this post helpful. If you would like to share any insights or opinions – not on the Patriots, their greatness is unassailable – you can find me on Twitter at @JimmyKelley_


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