It looks like Tesla went through another head of communications as we learn that the company is planning a transition that will see its Vice-President of Communications leave.
Public relations are quite important for Tesla since the company doesn’t advertise and relies on media coverage and word-of-mouth to promote its products.
Despite the critical nature of their media relations and the tremendous amount of media coverage Tesla is getting, the automaker’s PR team remained incredibly small over the years and there was also a lot of turnovers for a while.
Ricardo Reyes led the team for the longest time through two different stints in 2009 to 2012 and 2014 to 2016.
When he left the second time, Khobi Brooklyn took over, but she lasted only a few months.
Sarah O’Brien then joined Tesla from Apple and quickly became VP of Communications.
She has been the head of the department for about 2 years now, but Bloomberg is reporting that her departure is planned for next month:
“Her departure has been planned for a few months and precedes the recent drama surrounding Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s aborted attempt to take the electric carmaker private. Her last day will be Sept. 7.”
Dave Arnold, who has been leading corporate communications at Tesla for over a year, has been recently promoted to Sr. Director of Global Communications and he will be taking over O’Brien’s responsibilities.
A Tesla spokesperson sent us the following comment about the situation:
“We’d like to thank Sarah for all her contributions to Tesla and we wish her the best. Sarah’s transition has been underway for a couple of months and Dave Arnold, Tesla’s Sr. Director of Global Communications, will take on her responsibilities.”
The company seems to emphasize that it has been planned for a relatively long time and therefore, it is not related to the recent wave of negative press that Tesla has been getting over the past few months.
Here are some of my thoughts on Tesla’s PR as someone who was completely new to this world until relatively recently:
As most of you know, I have no background in PR or media in general. I came onto the scene through my passion for electric vehicles and Seth hiring me to build up Electrek.
Therefore, my experience with PR people has been very limited until working at Electrek.
At first, it was mainly with Tesla’s people since most of our content was about the company and I naively thought that they were doing things like any other standard automaker PR department.
But we have gradually expanded our coverage to other companies, which also created relationships with PR departments at other automakers more recently.
That’s how we learned that Tesla is running PR completely differently.
They seem to have a very different attitude especially when it comes to negative coverage which they respond to in a much more combative way than anything else I have experienced.
If I publish something that could be perceived as even just mildly negative for Tesla, I am sure to get push backs.
I am not saying that it doesn’t happen with other automakers, but they generally try to be more open to criticism in my experience.
Of course, Tesla is a big disruptor in the industry. It has made quite a few enemies and has been subject to smear campaigns, which can explain the combative attitude.
I just think that it may not always be the best approach. It is also likely a big strain on the team and it could explain the previously mentioned turnover.
They also don’t have the same resources as other automakers and that’s something that I think most people don’t appreciate enough.
Tesla gets more media coverage than any other carmaker and yet, I estimate that their PR department is one-tenth the size of an average PR department at established automakers, like BMW or GM.
It’s a lot of coverage to try to handle. I would also note that the team mostly come from the tech industry instead of traditional automakers, which can partially explain the different experience.
In short, I really don’t envy their job.