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Tesla dissolved their PR team -- Perspective from a PR Professional who owns a Model 3

public relations Oct 07, 2020

Today Tesla announced that they dissolved their PR team - the first in the auto industry to make such a move and choose not to speak to the press. Exact reasons were not stated but many can speculate. It’s fairly common knowledge that Elon doesn’t respond well to criticism, and also that the Tesla PR team is one of the most cycled through teams in tech history. We’ve seen this “resistance to PR” before in different capacities, for example, Apple PR not speaking on certain items and other companies choosing to execute reactive Communications only. 

But, nothing at all? 

Obviously Elon is a man of surprises and is often critiqued by the press for his harsh comments and off the cuff tweets, but from a PR perspective, it begs a few questions: does this matter? Does not having PR impact the bottom line? Is this strategic or or a brash reactive move?

My initial reaction to this news as a PR professional was: 

“What happens when inaccurate information gets out there, how are you controlling that?”

“What happens with a journalist is writing a story and needs to fact check or get a quote?”

“Who will help the executive team build their narrative, form cohesive thoughts when addressing the press or public?”

“Who will control the message when there is a crisis?”

“What happens when a social media conversation goes sideways?”

We know that when done correctly, PR is a very powerful tool.

For example:

  • PR helps companies manage their external messages and tell their story - their product stories, their company stories, their executive stories. 
  • PR professionals know what to listen for in executive meetings to determine story angles to support business objectives. 
  • PR knows what questions to ask engineers to pull out the diamond in the rough of tech & product updates.
  • PR can help navigate tricky social media situations and conversations, when they go awry. 
  • PR understands what key hires signal certain business indicators and overall help cushion and filter media opportunities with the executives and support the hard working media trying to get in touch to either fact check news or write a feature.
  • ......and so much more

All things that are proven to increase brand awareness, customer acquisition and business growth. 

But, does it matter? Is this signaling a greater movement of companies no longer caring about journalists or the narrative? Do companies not consider the media the gatekeepers of disseminating news to consumers anymore? Do companies not care about misinformation being reported? What happens when inaccurate news hits the blogs and newsstands and is not corrected with a statement? Or when an executive goes rogue on social? Or when the social media conversation goes sideways? Generally companies like to keep their shareholders, customers and investors in the know with the most accurate and up to date information, but is course-correction no longer a priority?

Historically, being able to formulate a story arch for a company and narrative around how each product, executive move or news announcement ties into that is crucial, being able to showcase rhyme, reason and moves supporting the overall business objective of growth. Is radical transparency more valuable now? Is controlling your narrative going to be a thing of the past? 

And then there are the journalists. Who is their point person? Are feature stories that require company spokespeople, photo assets and accurate information no longer key to building brands? Is this a larger more autocratic play much like our current administration, where support is deemed not needed? Is PR a facade that we think is controlling something larger than it really is? Or, does Elon just not want to hear criticism?

I mean, look at the stock right now -- does it matter? Will it matter? Do we even know yet? 

We’re currently living in a world where up is down and down is up, so whether this is simply a sign of the times or the beginning of a larger movement to full transparency and the dissolution of narrative makers, only time will tell. But, as a PR professional, I’m excited to have a front row seat.

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