Elon Musk rejected the idea of Tesla going back to having a PR department, and his reasoning behind it is quite revealing: He doesn’t believe in “manipulating public opinion.”
For years now, Tesla has been receiving more press coverage than any other automaker, and yet it always had a very small press relations (PR) department compared to even smaller automakers.
There were only a handful of PR people handling hundreds of inquiries from journalists every day.
It made sense as a startup in the 2010s, but Tesla grew into a major automaker and the world’s most valuable automotive company in 2020.
A natural progression would have been a PR department that grows with the automaker, but Tesla did the exact opposite.
The automaker stopped answering press inquiries in 2020, and Electrek later reported that CEO Elon Musk dissolved Tesla’s whole press department.
Now a year later, Musk commented on the move.
Every time Musk complains about media coverage of Tesla, I like to jump in and suggests that they hire a PR team again:
This time, a bunch of other people piled on and Musk actually answered one of them:
It doesn’t look like Tesla is going to have a new PR department any time soon.
His answer is kind of telling us that he believes that the role of a PR dept. is to “manipulate public opinion.”
I feel like it’s a very sinister way to look at a PR team.
At its core, a press relations department’s main function is to communicate with the press. That’s it. Whether or not they try to manipulate people would be the result of the actions of individuals within the team or the culture at the company.
Was Tesla’s PR dept., like others, manipulative at times? Sure, but it doesn’t mean that it had a net negative impact.
When we reported that Tesla dissolved its PR dept., many people responded: “Well, Tesla doesn’t need to create press coverage, they already get plenty.”
While that’s true, that’s not the main role of a PR team.
Many PR departments have to work on creating press coverage for their company. It wasn’t the case at Tesla, but they also answer press inquiries in order to make sure the information in the media is accurate, or if it’s a “he said, she said” situation, that Tesla’s side of the story is being included in the story.
And that right there is the biggest difference you see in Tesla coverage since the PR department has been dissolved.
You see unanswered questions and Tesla’s side of the story not included in any media story unless Elon tweets about it.
No matter how you look at it, Tesla dissolving its PR dept. resulted in a reduction in accurate information about Tesla being propagated by the media. Plain and simple.
Also, the lack of a PR dept. results in people having to go to Elon’s Twitter for most official communications from Tesla on news stories. That’s less than ideal.
For the most part, I enjoy Elon’s Twitter, but let’s be honest, anyone objectively reading Elon’s feed would feel like they are reading the rantings of a lunatic who happens to have a deep knowledge of engineering and rocket science.
That’s perfectly fine for someone’s personal Twitter, but not so much for the main source of information for a massive company delivering consumer products.
Elon says that Tesla focuses on products instead. I can understand that for a startup with a small budget, but Tesla now makes $10 billion in revenue every quarter. It could have a more-than-decent PR department for literally 0.01% of its revenue.
The way I see it, it means that Elon doesn’t believe that this is worth having more accurate information about Tesla in the media.
He may be right. I don’t know. But I personally feel like it’s not about money. I feel like Elon has been burned too many times by the media and now he feels like he/Tesla just won’t be talking to them anymore.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.
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