PR Roundup: Belichick and Rodgers Out, PR Budgeting for 2024

New England Patriots 53th Super Bowl Championship Parade in Boston on Feb. 5, 2019. Coach Bill Belichick left the Patriots this week after 24 years with the organization.

This week's PR Roundup follows up on NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers's dust up with late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, takes a look at how the New England Patriots handled tenured coach Bill Belichick's departure, and reveals the results of a new survey from Prowly, which shows what budget priorities PR professionals have in 2024.

Bill Belichick Departs Patriots After 24 Seasons

What happened: Even if you are not a hardcore professional football fan, most people know the name Bill Belichick. With 10 Super Bowl appearances, including six victories for the New England Patriots, the frequently gruff maestro of former NFL quarterback Tom Brady’s successful career has claimed his spot in sports history. 

That’s why after a 24-season tenure with the Patriots, his announcement for moving on during a press appearance on January 11 piqued the media’s interest—to say the least. While sports talk pundits speculated on his departure over the past several months, the official announcement of an appearance and his public statements took just over five hours. 

It appeared to be a swift and clean event with both parties admitting to amicably dissolving their partnership. And the reason we use the word “appearance” instead of “conference?” No press questions were had after they heard the statements from Belichick and Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft. 

Communication takeaways: It’s important to know how to prepare for and control a media circus when a famous leader steps away from an organization—especially one they’ve had a long-standing relationship with. All stakeholders need to be considered from the media to ownership to the players or employees—and, of course, the fans, followers or respective audience.

Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications, says Belichick and Kraft’s statements were well-thought out and something other public figures can learn from. 

"Belichick's statement was genuine, heartfelt and thanked colleagues and fans with a tone of appreciation that made it clear the departure was amicable,” he says. “When major departures like these happen, it's important for both sides to project stability and keep the focus on the positive so they can preserve their shared legacy and take their next steps forward with grace.

Establishing trust with the media also helps. 

“Both Belichick and Kraft have extensive experience with the press, and this was a textbook press conference with class, mutual respect and dignity." 

And the reasons for not encouraging press inquiries at the event? 

"I'd wager that questions weren't taken to keep the focus where it rightly belonged here—on acknowledging what Belichick and the Patriots accomplished [together during his tenure],” Yaverbaum says. “Questions likely would have shifted the focus toward Belichick's future plans and prospects. It feels only right for such a historical partnership to get a sendoff that takes a moment to honor that legacy and the coach that built it."

Rodgers Out

What happened: We have a follow-up from last week’s PR Roundup item regarding NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s flippant accusations about late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. 

If you may remember, Rodgers insinuated that Kimmel may be appearing on the Jeffrey Epstein acquaintance list. Kimmel did not take this lightly and responded on social media by threatening legal action. This week, Kimmel also took to his show to devote an entire monologue to the wrongness of Rodgers in this situation. 

Well, it seems as though either ESPN or show host Pat McAfee had enough of the media frenzy, and on Jan. 10, McAfee announced Rodgers would no longer be returning to his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show.” 

McAfee posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) that his time came to an end because of the end of the regular football season—without mentioning anything about the controversy. 

“Our fans know that ART [Rodgers’ segment] ends shortly after Aaron’s team’s season ends… that’s how it’s been. He’ll make random surprise welcomed pop-ins during big events or off-season adventures, but it’s always been a season thing. I never said he’ll never be on the show again. I hope he chooses to still chat with us.”

Communication takeaways: There’s still a lot to unpack here, with the timing of this move seeming quite suspect to the general public. We may never know what went on behind the scenes, but there is certainly a response here to the escalating crisis. 

Jon Schwartz, managing director and head of sports at Prosek Partners, who commented on the situation for us last week, follows up by saying that while sports commentary programming is supposed to provoke thought and emotions resulting in a strong following, a level of risk must be discussed. 

“When trying to reach younger demographics, brands must have a risk tolerance that allows for talent to be their authentic selves and speak their minds,” Schwartz says. “ In this case, ESPN essentially acquired a media brand when they brought on McAfee, and he is helping to push the envelope and reach Gen Z.”

Schwartz also notes the importance of crisis preparation when working with creators and influencers when elevating a brand. 

“Brands looking to creators to engage and inspire younger audiences must have a rapid-response playbook that includes real-time communication with their talent to avoid any missteps.”

Prowly PR Budget Report Shows What’s In and Out for 2024

What happened: This week Prowly released a report surveying 300 PR pros about the most outdated strategies and their strong budget positions for the upcoming year, with some surprising results. 

  • AI-generated content was labeled as "out" for 2024, while buying AI tools is expected to be "in."
  • Social responsibility is no longer just a trending topic but has become a mainstream and standard part of brand strategy.
  • In 2024, money will flow into partnerships, AI tools and research.

Other trends falling away from strategy and budgets included a mandatory use of X (formerly known as Twitter) for campaigns, mass email announcements to media, paid media coverage and global coverage over local. 

Communication takeaways: Aleksandra Kubicka, PR Evangelist at Prowly, says that much of the response in the survey shows that the PR industry is looking to stay human-first in 2024. 

“While AI-generated content initially attracted communicators due to its quick and easy accessibility, it has now become one of the top three trends to be abandoned this year,” Kubicka says. “Still, emotional intelligence, aka human touch, will be necessary to create stories that resonate.”

What the survey does show is AI being increasingly sought after as a tool to assist in analyzing large amounts of data, accelerate research and develop strategy.  

Kubicka notes that strategic partnerships claimed the number one budget position for 37 percent of PR pros, which is a smart way to expand campaign reach during times of tight budgets. 

“Collaborations are the key to enhancing brand visibility and reaching new audiences,” she says.

The next priority in budgets, particularly among solo PR practitioners, is an allowance for AI tools.  

“As the survey clearly shows, data-driven decisions will definitely be "in," so AI might complement the third mentioned priority—market research. It was particularly popular among respondents from in-house PR teams, with 1 in 5 mentioning it in their financial plans.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal.