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Tesla dissolves its PR department — a new first in the industry

Electrek can confirm that Tesla has dissolved its PR department — technically becoming the first automaker who doesn’t talk to the press.

It’s something that we have discussed on our podcast several times over the last few months, but now that reporters are publicly complaining about it, we thought we’d clear things up in an article.

Tesla hasn’t responded to a press inquiry in months. We have received the odd email here and there from former press people, but it almost seems to be in an unofficial capacity.

If you’re a reporter who isn’t getting a response from Tesla, don’t take it personally, because it’s due to the automaker having dissolved its PR team.

The move has been confirmed to Electrek at the highest level at Tesla with the source saying, “We no longer have a PR Team.”

Keely Sulprizio, the last person known to officially be in charge of PR/communications at Tesla, left the automaker in December of last year to join Impossible Foods. Following her departure, virtually every other member of Tesla’s PR team either left or moved to other positions at Tesla.

After Sulprizio, Alan Cooper was the most senior member of Tesla’s communications team, and in February, his role was changed to director of demand generation, but he has now apparently left the company.

Gina Antonini, a senior manager on Tesla’s comms team for three years, saw her role changed to director of external relations and employee experience at Tesla in February.

Also in February, Tesla communications manager Alexander Ingram moved to a role as content lead for Design Studio at Tesla.

Danielle Meister, senior global communications manager at Tesla, left for WhatsApp in April.

Most recently, Rich Otto, who handled some of the latest PR projects at Tesla like exclusive videos with YouTubers and Jay Leno, is now a product manager, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Tesla still seems to have a few PR managers in European and Asian markets, but the core global team working out of the US has been dissolved. There are obviously still people arranging test-drive promotions for YouTubers but their role isn’t in a traditional public relations capacity.

Electrek’s Take

Hey, a new first in the industry for Tesla!

When the move was confirmed to us, again at the highest level, the reason behind it wasn’t explained.

In the past, CEO Elon Musk has had some harsh comments for the press, which he believes treats Tesla unfairly. Which of course the press does… sometimes.

So if they are not being fair, why would Tesla have “relations” with them? So, no public/press relations department? I guess that could be the logic here.

Personally, I’ve had my ups and downs with Tesla’s PR department. At times, they were extremely helpful with my reporting with responses and context/nuances/corrections. At other times, they shunned me because of more negative takes or company leaks that we posted or reported on.

It’s not completely unusual. I’ve had similar situations with PR departments at other automakers, but working with Tesla’s PR department was always an “interesting” experience. In the five years I’ve been reporting on Tesla full-time, I can’t even count the number of PR people who’ve shuffled in and out of the company. By and large, they were all very professional and were excellent at their jobs. But it is a tough role.

Tesla receives more press than any other automaker and the team always seemed understaffed.

It literally was one-tenth of the size of a PR team for an automaker of Tesla’s size and probably 20 times smaller than the PR teams at most major automakers.

Yet they managed to correct a lot of misinformation in the press and create some great blog posts and PR content over the years, all while working under the pressure of a boss who infamously often becomes enraged by bad coverage.

While I believe that the press department were misleading at times and I don’t agree with all their methods, I think Tesla’s PR department was a net positive overall as they helped correct a lot of misinformation about the company and get the word out. Journalists are a particularly needy bunch and even acknowledging our existence goes a long way to spreading goodwill in the community.

But hey, look where Tesla is today on the stock market compared to all the other automakers. They must be doing something right.

I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with everyone I’ve met on the team, but I was always impressed by their passion for Tesla’s mission and the larger mission to transform the world to sustainable energy and transportation.

Since dissolving the team at the beginning of the year, I had hoped that Tesla would try to build a new one, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

Instead, Tesla is leaving all press inquiries unanswered and doesn’t seem to comment on any story. Like I said, we’ll get the odd email or so every few months.

Now it seems that the only “official” response that the press can get from the company is from Elon directly — mostly on Twitter.

This is a problem, mainly because Elon simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to answer even just 1% of inquires, but also because he seems to be almost exclusively responding to fans who are lavishing praise on him via Twitter and almost never challenge his views. It’s a problem that we have discussed in the past with the “Tesla Twitter.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if those same superfans end up backing Elon’s move here even though this will undoubtedly result in a net decrease of accurate information about Tesla being circulated.

I don’t like the message it sends to not respond to any press inquiry. Are they all valid? Of course not. But there are some legitimate questions that the press sends to Tesla — and the public, most importantly, would benefit from answers.

Ignoring the press, and thus the public and customers, which is basically what is happening without a PR department, is only adding to something that most Tesla owners would probably agree was already one of Tesla’s biggest weaknesses: communication.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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