Elon Musk reportedly dissolved Tesla’s public relations department recently, leaving him as the sole public communicator for one of the most influential automotive companies in the world, setting them up for a public relations nightmare.
On Oct. 6, Electrek confirmed “at the highest level” that virtually all members of Tesla’s PR department had either taken on a new position within the company or left Tesla altogether, and that the department ceased to exist.
Although Musk has not confirmed this information himself, this move comes as no surprise. Tesla rarely responds to press inquiries and Musk has often been vocal about his distaste for the media. He once announced his intention to create a platform to allow the public to rate journalists’ credibility, as discussed in this article, written by Flackable’s founder, Brian Hart. He has essentially stopped working with media outlets and relies heavily on his personal Twitter account, Tesla YouTube channel, and occasional emails to communicate with the public.
Musk and Tesla continue their legacy as trailblazers, being the first in the industry to disband their PR department. However, innovation comes with risk.
The Public Relations Society of America released a statement responding to Tesla’s decision, calling it “alarming” and warning of potential dangers.
“In a world fraught with instability, disengagement is not a path to success and can result in dramatic reputational ramifications with long-term consequences… Strategic communication counsel is a critical element of reputation management, as is a robust, fully functioning, effective and transparent communications process supporting the public’s fundamental right to know and the media’s ability to provide in-depth reporting,” said the PRSA.
Without a trained team of public relations professionals and control strategies, any public image crisis could be detrimental to the reputation of the brand.
With over 42.2 million followers on Twitter, Musk is an engineer and entrepreneur turned celebrity. Despite the Tesla superfans that flood his Twitter replies, no man with status is safe from cancel culture. Musk has had his fair share of scandals, such as when he called a Thai cave diver, who helped rescued an entire boys soccer team, a “pedo” in a Tweet or when he smoked marijuana on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
Aside from Musk’s personal image at stake, an automotive company is bound to see drawbacks while testing models and Tesla lacks concrete strategy to address a crisis. By not having a PR team to address these issues, the public is denied their right to information about the organization. This leads to the public losing trust in the brand and speculation from the media. Additionally, Musk tends not to comment on Tesla-related news, therefore there is often no confirmed truth in circulating news stories. His lack of transparency causes him to lose trust from his audience.
If Musk truly wishes to take on the brand’s public relations needs on his own, he must openly and honestly address not only any crises that may occur, but any successes as well. By doing so he is able to get ahead of the media and set the story on the desired course that will be beneficial to the brand’s goals, as well as building trust and credibility in himself and Tesla.
Lauryn Bayley is a public relations and content development intern at Flackable, an award-winning public relations agency representing financial and professional services brands nationwide. To learn more about Flackable, please visit flackable.com. Follow Lauryn on Twitter at @LaurynBayleyPR.